A necessary step, but will it matter?

Word broke yesterday that Iran would be invited (with US approval) to participate in the next round of international talks over ending the Syrian civil war. The Guardian is calling this a “significant shift” in US policy, and I guess it is, but it’s one that was long overdue. You can’t get a political settlement to the war without creating conditions under which Bashar al-Assad goes away, either now or after a transition into democratic elections. It stands to reason that if you’re trying to nudge Assad out of Damascus, you need to engage his closest ally and biggest (still, even with Russia’s involvement) military supporter. Iran (and Hezbollah, but they’re an Iranian proxy) have been keeping Assad in the fight for months now, and yet, astonishingly, this is the first time that the Iranians and the Saudis are going to sit at the same table and talk about their respective goals for Syria. That’s crazy. This is a move that should have been made months — hell, years — ago.

It’ll probably look like this, only they’ll be grudgingly shaking hands over Syria rather than a nuclear deal

The Iranians of course accepted the invite to participate in the talks, which are starting tomorrow in Vienna. And while I think it’s necessary to have Iran at the table in order to reach a peace deal, I don’t think it’s sufficient. I wouldn’t expect much out of this week’s talks beyond just putting a negotiating process in place (then again, I try to keep my expectations low about most things, so I can be surprised instead of disappointed). That’s not going to be much comfort to the Syrian people, who need relief from the fighting immediately if not sooner, but it’ll at least be a start.

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