Iran accepts invitation to Syria peace talks in Vienna

Islamic Republic accepts American invite, marking first joint diplomatic action since nuclear agreement.

Khamenei and Assad (photo credit: KHAMENEI.IR / AFP)
Khamenei and Assad
(photo credit: KHAMENEI.IR / AFP)
WASHINGTON – Iran said on Wednesday it would attend talks with world powers over the future of Syria.
The talks convening on Friday in Vienna mark the first diplomatic effort involving Iran and the United States since a nuclear deal achieved in July.
Iran, which funds, trains and fights for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, will also sit at the table with representatives from Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. All five parties have directed assets to influence the outcome of the war, which has displaced nearly half of Syria’s population and taken nearly 300,000 lives.
Egypt and Iraq will also attend the meeting.
Tehran and Moscow say that Assad is the only legitimate ruler of Syria, and have thus far refused to entertain his exit, a demand set by the three other parties.
Riyadh and its Gulf allies continue to fund groups in Syria fighting Assad. Meanwhile, the US this week said it would step up efforts based in Syria’s east, as Russian jets broadened their own assault against terrorist targets, conducting 118 strikes in a 24-hour period.
Russia says it is fighting for Assad and against Islamic State, but US officials say their targets have not been inside ISIS-controlled territory. And while Russia has expanded its air bases and operations in the country, Iran has reportedly sent hundreds of ground troops to assist the government.
While President Barack Obama has ruled out an American ground operation in Syria, or a third campaign in Iraq, the Pentagon this week said it would consider “direct action on the ground” in both countries as appropriate, utilizing the US military’s unique special force capabilities.
That may involve an increased number of commando operations in Syria, as well as the addition of US Apache combat helicopters in Iraq, according to defense officials.
Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said, “We won’t hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL [ISIS] or conducting such missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground.”
The Pentagon chief, who faced withering criticism over the administration’s handling of the Islamic State crisis, said while the Iraq mission was to train, advise and assist Iraqi forces, “where we have actionable intelligence and a capable partner force, we want to support our partners and we will.”
Carter said that going forward the US-led coalition would support local forces as they put pressure on Islamic State in the group’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa and in the captured Iraqi city of Ramadi.
He said the United States was now supporting Syrian Arab forces in the country fighting Islamic State rather than trying to train completely new moderate Syrian fighters outside the country, an effort that cost millions of dollars and produced few trained troops.