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Russia says in contact with Iran over Syria peace talks

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov (Photo by Reuters)

Russia says it is in talks with Iranian officials on preparations for the upcoming Syria peace talks in the Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, among them the possible US presence in the discussions.

“We continue contacts with our Iranian counterparts, including regarding discussions of the topic,” Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on Thursday.

Representatives from the Syrian government and foreign-sponsored opposition groups are expected to take part in the Astana negotiations due to begin on January 23.

The conflict resolution talks on Syria are brokered by Moscow, Ankara and Tehran. The three sides have in the past months been engaged in a diplomatic process, which helped establish a ceasefire in Syria late last year and bring back Damascus and opposition groups to the negotiating table.

In another development on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Moscow had invited the US to attend the Syria peace talks.

“As I said yesterday, we have already invited [the US],” he told journalists in Moscow.

Reacting to Lavrov’s remarks, Washington said it was reviewing the invitation.

“We did get an invitation, and it's under review,” said an unnamed US State Department official.

This is while Iran has voiced strong opposition to the US participation in the upcoming Astana talks, citing Washington’s dedication to the ouster of the Syrian government and its longtime support for the Takfiri terror groups operating in the Arab state.

On Wednesday, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said Iran, Russia and Turkey have not sent any “joint invitation” to the US for taking part in the talks.

The US may only be invited to the discussions as an observer at the invitation of the host country, he said, adding that Washington cannot play a part in “managing, leading and directing the current initiatives on the Syria crisis,” including the Astana talks.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also expressed the Islamic Republic’s opposition to the US participation in the Astana meeting, saying, “We have not invited the US and oppose their presence [at the talks].”

Since March 2011, Syria has been gripped by militancy it blames on some Western states and their regional allies.

Separately on Thursday, the United Nations announced that Staffan de Mistura, the world body’s special envoy for Syria, would attend the Syria talks.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, said the UN chief had asked De Mistura to take part in the discussions "in light of the complexity and importance of the issues likely to be raised in Astana, and of the senior level at which the conveners of the meeting will be represented.”

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