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Iran Joins International Talks On Syrian Conflict In Vienna


There is something different about the latest international talks about the war in Syria. For the first time, Iran is at the table. These latest discussions are taking place in Vienna, Austria, which is where we reached NPR's Peter Kenyon.

Hey Peter.


SHAPIRO: Why does it make such a difference have Iran at these talks?

KENYON: Well, a lot of people say if any solution's going to work for Syria, Iran has to be on board. But one of the things that has happened now that they're here is that Syria's President Bashar al-Assad now has another ally at the table. Iran is a strong supporter of Syria along with Russia. Now, Saudi Arabia and Washington didn't really want Iran here, but the American position is kind of evolving. Now they seem to be willing at least to listen.

SHAPIRO: What's the environment like there in Vienna today? Lots of high level people from many different countries?

KENYON: Well, a lot is the operative word. I'm told there are 19 delegations here. You wouldn't believe the limousine traffic. The Secretary of State John Kerry has already met with Iran's foreign minister and so has the Russian foreign minister met with the Iranians. And this evening there will be a larger group meeting. And then tomorrow it just gets bigger and bigger - various meetings big and small trying to find some kind of idea and get some solution moving.

SHAPIRO: OK so if we look at at least the big players, you have Iran and Russia supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. You have the U.S. and Saudi Arabia supporting the moderate rebels that are fighting Assad. In theory, everybody opposes ISIS. What's the subject of the conversation? I mean, what can they agree on here?

KENYON: Well, what they can agree on is a very good question. The subject ISIS is certainly one subject, and the way that the various groups have been going about fighting ISIS has been quite counterproductive in some views. I mean, the Turks even on the American side of this equation have been spending more time bombing Kurdish forces in northern Syria than they have ISIS. And so there's all kinds of issues that would need to be disentangled and worked out if we're going to get this large group of people on any kind of a same page.

SHAPIRO: Give me a best-case scenario. Is there any chance that all of these 19 countries emerge from these talks rowing in the same direction?

KENYON: Well, I would say it's a bit early for that, but there could be an idea put on the table that gets people thinking. There could be some kind of movement on what kind of a role and for how long the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might have. That's been one of most intractable issues. And if they can grapple with that, that would be considered serious progress.

Another question will be - at least, according to the Saudi foreign minister is - whether Iran is really serious about finding a path out of the conflict or just wants to exert its influence some more. He didn't sound optimistic, but there certainly is a sense of urgency. We've got another winter coming. The refugees are moving, and we'll just have to see if something can get done here that leads to some progress.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Vienna, Austria.

Thanks Peter.

KENYON: Thanks Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.