In an interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency Nov. 12, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs, said Iran is currently reviewing whether it will attend the Vienna II talks on Syria scheduled for Nov. 14.
Asked why Iran had not yet made a decision on its participation, Abdollahian said, “Some of the players, such as the Americans, in the last week have taken actions that look like they are pushing forward their own ideas and also consulting specific countries.” He added, “If this is accurate, and it becomes clear to us, … then certainly we will [reconsider] our participation in Vienna II.” Abdollahian did not go into detail about the alleged US actions.
After years of lobbying to be involved in the political process, Iran attended the first round of the Vienna II talks, held Oct. 30. The 19 participants issued a nine-point statement on their mutal understandings, but accomplished little.
Abdollahian said Iran is reviewing whether “actions outside the nine-point statement have taken place.” He said, “When we were invited to the Vienna talks, we accepted with the intention of helping solve the crisis in Syria politically, in a correct, transparent and clear manner.”
When asked about recent battlefield victories by Syrian regime forces and their impact on the political process, Abdollahian said that although Iran supports Russia’s “fight against terrorism,” the path to ending the Syrian crisis is a political solution. Syrian troops, backed by Russian air power, were recently able to push back Islamic State fighers, breaking the militants' two-year siege on the Kweires air base, in northern Aleppo.
The deputy foreign minister also suggested that Iran and Russia's positions on Syria have grown closer, stating that at the beginning of the crisis they had a “close position,” but over time it has become a “shared position.”
Abdollahian traveled to Moscow Nov. 10 for talks with his counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, President Vladimir Putin’s special representative for the Middle East. According to Abdollahian, they reviewed which participants at the Vienna talks were playing a constructive role and which have their own agendas as their goal.
He said that both Iran and Russia have been in contact with the Syrian opposition, but a meeting between opposition members and Syrian officials is not on the agenda. Russia had earlier this month proposed developing a list of Syrian opposition groups to invite to the talks before the next round gets underway.
Saudi Arabia, one of the main opponents of the Syrian government in the talks, has stressed that President Bashar al-Assad must step aside as part of any political process, but Iran and Russia, the Assad's regime's main supporters, argue that elections without preconditions and the fight against terrorism should take priority.
The Vienna II talks marked the first time that the Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers had sat face to face. Abdollahian said that Tehran continues to call for direct Iranian-Saudi talks, but the Saudis have thus far refused. He noted Saudi Arabia's political and religious importance in the region and said that by working together, the two could resolve problems involving terrorism and extremism.
Abdollahian also said that Iran and Turkey had put talks about Syria on hold due to the Turkish elections held Nov. 1, but he is now hopeful about their resumption. He called Iranian-Turkish relations “strategic” and said that despite differences on Syria, Turkey has a “realistic approach” and that it is possible to reach agreements with Ankara.