Iran to join Vienna talks on ending Syria conflict
Tehran will be invited to participate in latest round of discussions aimed at solving crisis
Iranians walk past a banner showing a portrait of soldiers killed by Islamic State militants during a mission in Aleppo in Syria. Photograph: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images
Iran will be invited to participate in talks in Vienna on Friday to discuss ending the conflict in Syria and establishing a framework for political transition in Damascus, the US state department said on Tuesday.
However, an official in the region told reporters that Iran had already been invited by the US and Russia.
The official said that Iranian deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian would attend the talks, while the presence of Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was still under discussion.
Mr Zarif and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov held a phone call earlier on Tuesday to discuss ways to resolve the Syrian crisis, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Mr Lavrov also spoke to US secretary of state John Kerry, the ministry said.
US state department spokesman John Kirby said that Mr Kerry will travel to Vienna, and from there he will head to central Asia for discussions with counterparts from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Mr Kirby said about a dozen participants were expected in Vienna for the next round of discussions on Syria.
The different countries hope to eventually reach agreement on a “multilateral framework for a successful political transition in Syria, which leads to a government not led by Bashar al-Assad,” Mr Kirby said.
“There will be bilateral and multilateral discussions in Vienna on Friday and participation is very much still being worked [on],” Mr Kirby said.
A Western diplomat said the decision on whether to invite Iran was first discussed with Saudi Arabia, which is financing some of the militants fighting Assad and a bitter rival of Tehran.
While Washington has opposed Iran’s support of Assad, it has insisted that Iran needs to be included in the talks on Syria’s future.
A top US military officer said on Tuesday there were fewer than 2,000 Iranian troops in Syria helping Assad’s forces.
“Iran will be asked to participate. Now, whether they come or not, that’s up to Iranian leaders,” said Mr Kirby.