- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Iranian state television reported on Wednesday that the nation’s top diplomat will participate for the first time in Syrian peace talks carried out between world powers — including the U.S. — in Vienna, Austria.

While few other details were provided, State TV quoted Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham as saying Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will attend the talks, The Associated Press reported.

Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency also quoted Ms. Afkham as saying the Islamic republic — a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad — would attend.

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The invitation follows months of resistance from the Obama administration, which has long called for Mr. Assad’s ouster and condemned the role played by Iranian proxy groups in backing the Syrian president’s regime.

But with no end in sight to Syria’s 4-year-old, multi-front civil war, the administration signaled this week that it may finally be open to Iranian participation in international talks toward ending the conflict.

“We know there’s going to need to be a conversation with Iran towards the end of a political transition [in Syria],” State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Monday. “I don’t want to get ahead of specifics in terms of future meetings except to say that, obviously, at some point we know there’s going to have to be a dialogue with Iran.”

The development also follows Russia’s emergence during recent months as a top player in Syria’s war, both militarily and diplomatically. Moscow has colluded increasingly with Tehran toward the goal of keeping the Assad regime in power in Damascus.

Furor over the prospect Iranian participation in international diplomacy over Syria’s war erupted in Washington in 2014, after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that he had invited Iran to participate in the so-called “Geneva II” Syria peace conference.

Following heated pressure from Washington and its allies, the United Nations rescinded the invitation.

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