U.S. Sticks to Demand Assad Leave Power

VIENNA (REUTERS) -

 Washington stuck to its demand on Thursday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad leave power, ahead of peace talks which will include Assad’s main ally Iran for the first time, reflecting his stronger position since Russia joined the war on his side.

“Those who tried to resolve the Syrian crisis have come to the conclusion that without Iran being present, there is no way to reach a reasonable solution to the crisis,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on his arrival in Vienna on Thursday ahead of Friday’s conference.

Zarif met U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday in Vienna for talks on other issues including the July nuclear agreement between Iran and global powers. Kerry also met Russia’s Sergei Lavrov and the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

State Department counsellor Tom Shannon said in Washington Kerry would use the conference to see whether Tehran and Moscow were willing to accept a change of leadership in Damascus, and also gauge their commitment to fighting the Islamic State group.

The United States and its European and Middle Eastern allies have demanded Assad agree to leave power as part of any peace deal. He refuses to go, and Russia and Iran have consistently rejected any such demands.