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Iran has been invited to a series of meetings on Syrian civil war later this week, marking a shift in American strategy as it tries to end the four-year conflict.
"[The U.S.] always have recognized that at some point in the discussion, moving towards a political transition, we have to have a conversation and a dialogue with Iran," State Department spokesman John Kirby told journalists at a briefing on Tuesday. "I wouldn't call them a partner, necessarily, but obviously there are many stakeholders in this."
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman confirmed the government had received the invitation to participate in the meeting but officials were still deciding whether to attend, state news agency IRNA reported on Wednesday.
"The goal is to come up with a framework, an agreed-upon international multilateral framework for a successful political transition in Syria, which leads to a government not led by Bashar al-Assad," Kirby said referring to Syria's president who has been battling rebels trying to unseat him, including ISIS.
Secretary of State John Kerry will be in Vienna starting Thursday for the discussions, with key meetings expected to take place on Friday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is also expected to be at the meetings.
Iran, along with Russia, has backed Assad's government, and is seen by the U.S. and its Arab allies in the region as a major source of the bloodshed. The Syrian opposition may balk at Iran's inclusion in any discussions on what a post-Assad Syria should look like.
The U.S. State Department's number two official, Anthony Blinken, said Tuesday Obama has been “very clear” that he is willing to engage with “anyone” willing to work toward a peaceful outcome in Syria.
“It’s evident that Iran one way or another is going to have to be part of the conversation on Syria’s future,” he told France 24 television. “Unfortunately to date its played a negative role.”
Questions remain, he said, over whether Iran will be willing to “play a positive role” going forward.
“If other countries can play a positive role… that’s a good thing,” he added. “Whether those countries are partners in the Gulf, neighbors of Syria, or Russia, Iran... If everyone is working toward a positive result of ending the conflict through a political transition, that is a good thing.”