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Vienna Talks To Focus On Syria Conflict, Involve Iran For First Time

October 29, 2015

VIENNA -- Talks among international foreign ministers on ending the Syrian conflict are under way in Vienna -- a gathering that will include Iran, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main regional backer, for the first time.

On October 29, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held separates meetings with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country launched a campaign of air strikes against foes of the Syrian government a month ago.

Kerry later met with Lavrov and the foreign ministers of Turkey and Saudi Arabia ahead of multilateral talks on October 30.

U.S. State Department Counselor Tom Shannon said on October 29 that Kerry aims to test the extent to which Russia and Iran are "prepared to work broadly with the international community" and convince Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "that during a political transition process he will have to go."

Shannon said Kerry also wants to "determine whether or not...their public commitment to fighting [Islamic State militants] and terrorism is a meaningful one."

The talks will expand on October 30 and will include high-level representatives from the United States, Russia, Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan.

Diplomats have played down expectations of any breakthrough.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the United Nations special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, also are attending.

Iranian state news agencies report that the Iranian, Russian, and EU delegations will meet for talks on the sidelines of the gathering.

But neither Syria's main political opposition body nor representatives of Syria's armed opposition have been invited.

The Syrian opposition has objected to Iran's participation, saying it will only complicate efforts to map out a political transition that guarantees the departure of Assad.

Bashar al-Zoubi, a commander of the Yarmouk Army within the opposition Free Syrian Army, says Iranian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime makes Tehran 'part of the problem and not the solution.'

George Sabra, a member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, says the failure to invite Syrians to the Vienna meeting reveals a 'lack of seriousness.'

A statement from Bassam Abdullah, a member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, warned on October 29 that rebels would reject any role for Assad in the transition 'even for one day.'

Abdullah dismissed the Vienna initiative as an attempt to allow Assad's military to regain territory it had lost to opposition fighters.

U.S. officials have said that progress in Vienna is likely to be elusive.

Washington, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar want Assad to leave power as part of a transition plan.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia wanted a 'widening of the dialogue' on Syria.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on October 28 that Saudi Arabia was taking part in the Vienna talks in order to test the willingness of Russia and Iran for a political solution to the conflict.

Kerry on October 28 said the Vienna talks were not likely to find an immediate political solution, but represented 'the most promising opportunity for a political opening we have seen.'

Kerry said the challenge faced in Syria today 'is nothing less than to chart of course out of hell.'

France, which also wants Assad to step down from power, said it had worked with its Western allies on the details of a proposal that would guarantee Assad's departure 'within a precise timetable.'

But Russia and Iran, Assad's main backers, say his exit from power cannot be a precondition for a political settlement.

On October 28, Russia also announced that it opposed a draft UN Security Council resolution aimed at stopping barrel-bomb attacks in Syria.

Russian Deputy Ambassador Pyotr Ilyichev said the draft resolution 'at this very delicate moment' could 'jeopardize the efforts that are being undertaken in Vienna.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa

Source: focus-on-conflict/27333924.html

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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