The US hopes Iran will contribute positively to negotiations between the parties in conflict in Syria, US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Jerusalem on Sunday, after weeks of escalating violence in the region exacerbated sectarian divides.
The second round of talks on Syrian reconciliation, scheduled for January 22 in Geneva, is by invitation only. Iran has not been asked to attend since its government has yet to endorse the findings of the first summit, which include a call for “a transitional governing body which can establish a neutral environment,” including “members of the present government and opposition.”
“Could [Iran] contribute from the sidelines? Are there ways for them, conceivably, to weigh in? Can their mission that is already in Geneva... be there in order to help the process? It may be that there are ways that could happen,” Kerry said.
“But that has to be determined by the [UN] secretary- general. It has to be determined by Iranian intentions themselves,” Kerry added. “We are happy to have Iran be helpful.
Everybody is happy to have Iran be helpful.”
Kerry was asked to address conflicts on multiple fronts this weekend. Reprisal bombings across Lebanon, targeting a former government minister with close ties to the West and a Hezbollah stronghold, have made real the long-feared threat of spillover from Syria into open Lebanese conflict.
Al-Qaida affiliates have been asserting command on the border between Syria and Iraq, challenging local Iraqi tribes and the Iraqi government to fight for sovereignty as far east as Fallujah.
Unconfirmed reports over the weekend suggested that al-Qaida might have taken control of Fallujah from Iraqi government forces.
And yet in northern Syria, al-Qaida affiliates have been fighting President Bashar Assad and moderate rebels as much as they have been fighting each other. Syria-based Al Nusra Front pushed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, both al-Qaida groups, out of a series of border towns with Turkey over the weekend.
Activists in Syria have scheduled a “day of rage” protest against both al-Qaida and Assad, slated for January 10.
The chaos with al-Qaida in Syria, and on its fragile borders both east and west with Iraq and Lebanon, has been compounded by support on opposing sides from Saudi Arabia and Iran.
While Iran continues its support for Assad and his Shiite allies – including Hezbollah based in southern Lebanon – Saudi Arabia pledged $3 billion in support for the Lebanese army last week.
The United States pulled troops out of Iraq in 2011 after failing to negotiate a status of forces agreement with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite who has lost political support among Iraq’s Sunni minority in the two years since.
“We’re helping them build their capability. We’re helping provide them with the tools, the guidance, the assistance, as they fight this fight,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Friday.
“But it’s really up to them,” she added, “in conjunction with us helping them, to push out the extremists, to encourage moderates, to learn the lessons we all learned from the years we were there when we did have boots on the ground, and try and move the situation forward in a better way.”
Reuters contributed to this report.