Iran on Wednesday confirmed that it would take part in international talks aimed at resolving the Syria conflict for the first time as a diplomatic push to end the war gains momentum.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will join his counterparts from Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey in Vienna on Friday for negotiations it is hoped could help staunch almost five years of bloodshed.
The inclusion of Iran—a key backer of President Bashar al-Assad—marks a crucial shift after Tehran was excluded from earlier talks mainly because of opposition from Washington and Riyadh.
“We have reviewed the invitation, and it was decided that the foreign minister would attend the talks,” Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said.
The Friday talks will follow a meeting between the top diplomats of Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey on Thursday evening, the second in less than a week of the quartet.
Egypt, Lebanon and the European Union have also confirmed they will attend Friday’s talks, while Russia said Iraq has also been invited.
After years of international failure to stem the violence in Syria, the talks in Vienna will be the first time all major international players in the conflict will be in the same room as they seek to find a political solution by setting up an interim unity government.
But serious divisions remain over when or whether Assad should step down—and the four-way Russia-US-Saudi-Turkey meeting last Friday in the Austrian capital failed to make a major breakthrough.
On one side are Russia and Iran, which both are backing Assad’s forces on the ground and say Damascus must be helped to defeat ‘terrorism’ before a political process can start.
On the other are the United States and its key regional allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which are backing groups fighting Assad and insist he must go if there is to be any hope of peace.
US state department spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday that he doubted the upcoming round of talks in Vienna would be ‘the last chapter’.
But secretary of state John Kerry said he felt “progress was being made towards laying down the foundation of what a political transition could look like” after the last talks and wanted to “continue momentum”, Kirby said.