- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The president of Iran — the top international backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad — said Tuesday that if asked, his nation would willingly join in peace talks with the U.S. and other powers, including rival Saudi Arabia toward an end to Syria’s civil war.

The assertion by Hassan Rouhani follows weeks of diplomatic moves by Russia, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia aimed at breathing new life into a failed peace process for the war, whose millions of refugees are at the center of a migrant crisis reaching all the way to Western Europe.

Despite working with Iran toward this summer’s historic nuclear accord, the Obama administration has long sought to keep Tehran out of any talks toward ending Syria’s four-year-old and multi-fronted conflict.

But the Iranians, seen to be seizing on the momentum of the nuclear accord to engage more deeply in international diplomacy, have increasingly sought to become involved.

“Iran will sit at any table with regional countries and world powers if the outcome will be a safer, stable and democratic future for Syria,” Mr. Rouhani said Tuesday.

He made the comments during a press conference in Tehran with visiting Austrian counterpart Heinz Fischer, according to The Associated Press, which said Mr. Rouhani also urged the international community to prioritize halting the bloodshed in Syria, rather than focusing on Mr. Assad’s ouster.

The Obama administration and its allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia, have long asserted that any serious peace process must rest on the premise that the Assad regime — whose military is accused of murdering more than 100,000 of Syrian citizens in the conflict — must relinquish power.

Mr. Rouhani pushed back at the idea of that premise in his remarks Tuesday. “It is not a matter of supporting a specific individual or government,” Rouhani said. “While people of Syria are being killed and displaced, is it really a priority to discuss opposition groups … and changes in the [Syrian] constitution?”

“Foreign countries and powers should not and cannot decide about the future of Syria but should help bring about security in Syria,” he added.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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