August 4, 2015 / 3:45 PM / in 2 years

Syria foreign minister in Tehran for talks with Iran, Russia

DUBAI (Reuters) - Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem arrived in Tehran on Tuesday for talks with officials from allies Iran and Russia that are expected to focus on efforts to end the civil war in his country.

Iran and Russia have stood by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, providing military and financial support during more than four years of the conflict. The United States and some of its Gulf Arab allies have said Assad must leave office.

World powers led by the United States reached a nuclear agreement with Iran on July 14 but both sides have made it clear that the deal will not change their policies in the region.

Moualem on July 24 reiterated his government’s view that Iran’s support for Damascus would continue after the deal.

He will meet Mikhail Bogdanov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy to the Middle East, on Tuesday evening before holding talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday, Iranian media reported.

Russian and Iranian media quoted Bogdanov as saying the three deputy ministers were also due to hold a joint meeting.

Speaking about Moualem’s visit, Iranian deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian suggested the chances of a diplomatic resolution of the war were growing.

“Fortunately we see a change in the strategy of regional players in the Syrian crisis. If four years ago they believed war is the only solution, now they prefer to focus on diplomacy,” he was quoted as saying by Fars News Agency.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meeting in Qatar on Monday “acknowledged the need for a political solution to the conflict and the important role to be played by opposition groups in reaching that solution”, a senior State Department official said.

In an article published in four Arab newspapers on Monday, Zarif suggested a regional dialogue committee be formed to tackle the multiple crises in the Middle East.

“Nowhere in the world needs this mechanism more than the Gulf region, and the Middle East ... No one can fight against extremist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq, while helping them grow in Yemen and Syria,” he said.

Russia has called for wider international cooperation to fight Islamic State and says gains on the ground by the ultra-radical jihadist group mean even those who oppose Assad should now join ranks with Damascus to fight the common enemy.

Moscow has been trying to bring about rapprochement between the Syrian government and regional states including Saudi Arabia and Turkey to that end.

Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Bogdanov and Abdollahian, during a meeting in Tehran on Tuesday, “supported the formation of a wide anti-terrorist front.”

The ministry also said that was “one of the main themes” of the Kerry-Lavrov-Jubeir talks in Doha the previous day.

It was not immediately clear what the position of any such coalition would be vis-a-vis a U.S.-led grouping, which has been conducting air strikes against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Speaking separately in Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia was not considering sending its air forces to support that campaign. He also said Assad had never asked Putin to send troops to Syria and that was not under discussion.

Peskov declined to comment on details of Russia’s latest diplomatic push on Syria, saying it would be ill-timed and inappropriate as “foreign ministers are now working on it”.

Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin,; Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska,; Writing by William Maclean,; Editing by Louise Ireland

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