AMMAN, Jordan — Secretary of State John Kerry suggested on Sunday that Iran might play a role at the upcoming peace talks on Syria.
It was the first time a senior US official had indicated that Iranian diplomats might participate in the session, which is to convene in Switzerland on Jan. 22.
But Kerry also made clear there would be limits on Iran’s role if officials in Tehran did not formally accept a key goal of the conference: working 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 Mideast peace talks. Kerry went to Saudi Arabia later Sunday to meet with the Saudi monarch.
Russia has argued that Iran should be present at the peace conference, as has Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN special envoy. But France and the United States 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.
Kerry said Iran would also have to end its military aid to the Assad regime.
Iran has been supplying Assad’s government with arms and supporting his war efforts with military advisers. Iran has also backed Lebanese Hezbollah fighters who have been assisting Assad’s forces.
In Syria on Sunday, opposition fighters battled rival rebels from an Al Qaeda-linked faction across northern parts of the country, the Associated Press reported. The clashes, which broke out on Friday and have spread to parts of four provinces, represent one of the deepest rifts among insurgent fighters since the start of the Syrian uprising about three years ago.
The clashes pit an array of moderate and ultraconservative Islamist brigades against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an extremist group that has become both feared and resented in parts of opposition-held areas for trying to impose its hard-line view of Islam.
Analysts say the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant includes about 5,000 fighters, many of whom are foreigners. That infighting has left scores dead on both sides while undermining the broader rebel movement’s efforts to oust Assad.
Regarding the Arab-Israeli peace talks, Kerry said some progress was made in the three days of negotiations with Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, and Saudi leaders. Kerry conferred Sunday with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, covering Syria and Iraq as well as the Mideast peace talks.
Abdullah developed an initiative in 2002 in which the Arab League offered comprehensive peace with Israel in exchange for a full pullout from all territories it captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
Kerry is trying to move Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas closer to an agreement that would establish a Palestinian state. The talks have entered a phase aimed at getting the two sides to agree on a framework for the final settlement, but Kerry was not expected to wrap up a framework on this trip.