While US officials seemed yesterday to be holding out hope Iran would decline the invitation, they have accepted, and will attempt the next round of talks on Syria’s future, scheduled for later this week in Vienna. The topic is not totally clear, but appears to include efforts for a unity government and transition to include secular rebels.
The talks are going to include, in addition to Iran, the US, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, with unconfirmed talk of potential European and Arab nations also taking part in the meeting. This will mark the first direct meeting between Iranian and Saudi officials of the war.
The US and Saudis had long resisted allowing Iranian involvement in the talks, arguing that they believe Assad can have no role in future Syria, and subsequently that any of Assad’s allies should have no role in the discussion of a transition. The US, however, appears to have begun shifting on a bit of that point, at least allowing Iran to the table, mostly at Russia’s insistence.
Iran has expressed support for the Russian transition plan, which seeks a political solution to the civil war between secular rebels and the government, leading to unity against ISIS and al-Qaeda, with a big role for Assad during the transitional phase. So far the rebels have spurned that suggestion, and are insisting unconditional regime change is a precondition for their involvement.
This week’s talks are likely to be very preliminary, and no agreements or frameworks are expected. The addition of Iran as a new participant, however, means there will be a lot more eyes on this round of discussions than during most.