U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says it “would not be appropriate” for Iran to join talks in Paris on Monday on fighting Islamic State militants because of Tehran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Secretary Kerry met Friday in Ankara with Turkish officials to discuss the Islamic State threat.
The Obama administration is looking to build a broad coalition against Islamic State militants. That does not include Iran, however, even though Iran is helping arm Kurdish forces fighting that group in Iraq with the backing of U.S. airstrikes.
In an interview with VOA, Kerry said the United States and Iran are acting independently against the Islamic State in Iraq, though there is some coordination to ensure that they stay out of each other’s line of fire.
But within the burgeoning coalition there are those who would like to see a bigger role for Iran, chief among them the French. President Francois Hollande’s government is hosting a conference on the Islamic State Monday that will include the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, Russia, and the United States.
French officials say they have not yet decided on other invitations though they have previously suggested Iran take part, given its direct involvement in both Iraq and Syria.
Speaking to reporters, Kerry said that “would not be appropriate” because of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — or IRGC – that is fighting to defend Assad.
“Iran has been deeply involved with its forces on the ground in Syria. IRGC forces are on the ground. So there would have to be much greater clarity and understanding of exactly what the purpose was, of what the meaning was of any kind of presence, which is the only thing that stands in the way, as well as their state-sponsor of terror in various places,” said Kerry.
Given progress in international negotiations to roll-back Iran’s nuclear program, Kerry said there eventually might be a more public role for Tehran in fighting the Islamic State, but only after Iran stops fomenting violence elsewhere.
“These are serious issues, and that’s why they need to be approached in the proper way, not at a conference like this at this moment but through a process which we are entirely prepared over a period of time to engage in or we wouldn’t be engaged in the negotiations that we’re engaged in today,” said Kerry.
The Associated Press quoted Iran’s ambassador to Iraq on Friday as saying Tehran would be happy to participate in the Paris conference as it has a great interest in stabilizing Iraq and is prepared to offer its neighbor any support.
Kerry declined to answer questions about whether he would boycott those talks if Iran is invited.
In Turkey Friday, he announced more than $500 million in additional U.S. humanitarian assistance for displaced Syrians inside their country as well as for refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Egypt.
He also announced that retired U.S. General John Allen will serve as the special presidential envoy for the global coalition against the Islamic State, working closely with the U.S. Defense Department to help match the requirements of that campaign with potential contributors.