United States State Department spokesman John Kirby called Iran’s “destabilizing activity” in Syria “unhelpful” but noted that the Islamic Republic would need to be more involved in the diplomatic process of achieving an end to the violence in the region sooner rather than later.
“They are a stakeholder in this process,” Kirby told reporters on Monday, according to Reuters. “They do have a relationship with the Assad regime; they do have a relationship inside Syria.” Despite longstanding opposition to Iran’s involvement in any “peace talks” to end the Syrian civil war, Kirby acknowledged that “at some point… we know there’s going to need to be a conversation with Iran toward the end of a political transition there.”
The next round of diplomatic talks on the issue are slated to take place this Thursday in Vienna to discuss political transition in Syria and what the war-torn nation would look like should Assad be made to leave. In addition to the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, these talks will also include England, France, Germany, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates.
“It’s up to Iran to decide whether they’re going to or not when they are asked,” Kirby said. Russia reportedly extended the invitation.
Kirby told reporters that Iran’s role in the Syrian conflict, including its support for Assad and their backing of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, was unhelpful, Reuters notes. Hezbollah, which is Shiite, has been fighting alongside the Syrian army since early in the conflict. Although the crux of direct Iranian military support for Assad has reportedly come in the form of military advisers, Iran has also mobilized Shiite militia fighters from Iraq and Afghanistan to assist the Syrian military.
Kirby said the ultimate goal “is to come up with a framework for a successful political transition in Syria which leads to a government not led by Bashar al-Assad and that is representative of and responsive to the Syrian people.”
Last month, Russia began launching airstrikes in Syria, saying they were targeting the Islamic State and other terrorist groups. However, most of the bombs have reportedly been landing on anti-Assad Syrian opposition forces (including the Free Syrian Army), several of which are backed by the CIA.
On Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) criticized Defense Secretary Ash Carter over the U.S.’s strategy against al-Assad, saying, “Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah are going to fight for their guy.” Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Graham said, “So what you’ve done, gentlemen, along with the president, is you’ve turned Syria over to Russia and Iran… All I can say is, this is a sad day for America, and the region will pay hell for this because the Arabs are not going to accept this. The people in Syria are not going to accept this. This is a half-assed strategy at best.”