Iran, Egypt, EU join key Syria summit in Vienna

Iran, Egypt, EU join key Syria summit in Vienna

Iran, Egypt, EU join key Syria summit in Vienna

AP photo

A ministerial-level summit on the future of Syria that has started on Oct. 29, less than a week after an initial four-way meeting, will bring together a wider range of countries, including ones with whom Turkey is at diplomatic loggerheads, as well as Iran.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry will attend the talks on Oct. 30, Egypt’s state news agency said. 
Russia asked for participation in the talks to be widened to include both Egypt and Iran, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s closest regional ally. 

Egypt’s decision to take part in the talks is the latest signal of warming relations between Russia and Egypt. 
Cairo has publicly come out in support of Russian air strikes in Syria, saying they would curtail the spread of terrorism and deal a blow to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), whose local affiliate is battling Egyptian security forces in the Sinai Peninsula. 

Turkey is not represented at the ambassador level in Egypt, along with Syria, as ties deteriorated after then-army chief and now President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi overthrew Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. 

Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu will represent Turkey at the event. 

Probably the most surprising name to join the Vienna meeting is Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who will be part of the multilateral talks on Oct. 30 along with three of his deputies. 

It will be the first time that Tehran, the main regional backer of al-Assad, attends an international summit on the four-year war. 

Other participants, notably the United States and Turkey, say al-Assad can play no part in Syria’s future. 

“Deputy Foreign Ministers Hossein Amir Abdollahian, Abbas Araqchi and Majid Takht Ravanchi will accompany Zarif on this trip,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham was quoted as saying by Iran’s ISNA news agency. 

Iraq, Lebanon, the European Union and France also said they would attend talks, which are coming after a smaller round of negotiations between the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. 

Around a dozen participants are expected in total. It was not clear if any invitations had been issued to either the Syrian government or the opposition, though neither side was present at the last talks in Vienna. 

Iran says it has sent “military advisers” to bolster al-Assad’s forces, while Russia last month began carrying out air strikes in support of the government. Tehran and Moscow say they are fighting ISIL militants, but other rebel groups say they have also been targeted. 

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC), a political opposition group based in Turkey and supported by Western powers, said Iran’s participation in the talks would undermine the political process. 

“Iran has only one project – to keep al-Assad in power... they don’t believe in the principle of the talks,” said the coalition’s vice president, Hisham Marwa.

Iran says it supports a political solution in Syria, but says al-Assad should be part of the process. Opposition groups, and their regional backers including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, say al-Assad must leave power as a precondition for peace. 

“This is an acknowledgement of reality, four years into the conflict,” said Julien Barnes-Dacey, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London. 

“Having Iran at the table complicates the goal of getting rid of al-Assad, but potentially opens the door to some kind of de-escalatory track,” he added. 

Foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini will represent the EU at the meeting. 

The bloc’s absence from talks last week had raised questions about the EU’s role in resolving a conflict that has this year triggered a major crisis in Europe due to the influx of Syrian refugees. 

“The European Union is very involved, in terms of what is happening in Syria, to try and get everyone around the table,” an EU spokeswoman told a news briefing.