Iran Will Attend The Next Round Of Syrian Peace Talks. Here’s Why That’s A Big Deal

by JUSTIN SALHANI –

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Iran will be in Vienna this week to talk about a solution to the crisis in Syria. An Iranian government spokesman confirmed that Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will attend the multilateral talks that see them at the same table as regional opponents.

“We have reviewed the invitation, and it was decided that the foreign minister would attend the talks,” Marzieh Afkham, a spokeswoman for the Iranian foreign ministry, told the BBC.

The Syrian Civil War began in 2011 and has since resulted in the death of over 200,000 people. Millions have been displaced, both internally and abroad. Inside the country, a regional – and at times global – proxy war quickly developed. Iran’s attendance at the peace talks is significant because of their influential involvement in the crisis on the side of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. To date, the Iranians have sent around 2,000 fighters and members of proxy militias to support the embattled Assad.

This is the first time Iran is attending talks about the crisis in Syria with the United States. Previous peace talks left Iran out due to pressure from American allies in the Persian Gulf. This time though, the Gulf countries – and particularly Saudi Arabia – seemed to have changed their tune.

“The view of our partners … was that we should test the intentions of the Iranians and the Russians in arriving at a political solution in Syria, which we all prefer,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at a news conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s involvement was likely driven by the recent nuclear deal. In light of the recent agreement — as well as Russia’s aerial intervention in Syria — regional actors have welcomed the possibility that Iran could play a constructive negotiating role.

The talks will also include a number of regional and international actors. Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, Lebanon, the European Union, France will attend Friday’s talks, while a smaller group consisting of the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will meet on Thursday. One country will be notably absent though: Syria.

Many believe that no political solution can be reached without including Assad’s regime in the negotiations. Critics, though, say that Assad’s inner circle has been unwilling to negotiate in past peace talks. Iran and Russia, to date, have strongly backed Assad with military and economic support. Russia and China have also vetoed any attempts by the United Nations to send Syria to the international criminal court.

“This is an acknowledgement of reality, four years into the conflict,” said Julien Barnes-Dacey, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations told Reuters. “Having Iran at the table complicates the goal of getting rid of Assad, but potentially opens the door to some kind of de-escalatory track.”

 

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress