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Kerry says Iran could participate in Syrian peace talks

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke in Jerusalem.

Brendan Smialowski/Associated Press

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke in Jerusalem.

AMMAN, Jordan — Secretary of State John Kerry suggested on Sunday that Iran might play a role at the peace talks on Syria that are scheduled to take place this month.

It was the first time that a senior U.S. official had indicated that Iranian diplomats might participate in the session, which is to convene in Switzerland on Jan. 22.

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But Kerry also made clear that there would be limits on Iran’s role if officials in Tehran did not formally accept that the goal of the conference would be to work out arrangements for a transitional authority that would govern Syria if President Bashar Assad could be persuaded to give up power.

“Now, could they contribute from the sidelines? Are there ways for them conceivably to weigh in?” Kerry said, referring to the Iranians. “Can their mission that is already in Geneva be there in order to help the process?”

“It may be that that could happen, but that has to be determined by the secretary-general,” he added, referring to Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations. “It has to be determined by Iranian intentions themselves.”

Kerry made the comments at a news conference in Jerusalem before he headed to Jordan to continue his consultations with King Abdullah on the Middle East peace talks. Kerry planned to head to Saudi Arabia later Sunday to meet with the Saudi monarch before returning to Israel.

Russia has argued that Iran should be present at the peace conference, as has Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special envoy. But France and the U.S. previously insisted that Iran first make clear that it supports the goal of the meeting: a transition to a governing structure that would exclude Assad.

Iran has been one of Assad’s main supporters and has been supplying his government with arms and supporting his war efforts with military advisers.

On Iraq, meanwhile, Kerry expressed serious concern about the inroads made by al-Qaida’s affiliate there, including the capture of major parts of Fallujah, in Anbar province.

Kerry described the group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, as “the most dangerous player in the region.”

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