WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States aims to test Russia and Iran’s willingness to push Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave power and their commitment to fighting Islamic State militants in Syria, a top U.S. official said on Thursday.
The official, State Department Counselor Tom Shannon, was responding to a lawmaker’s question on why U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting with a wide array of nations, including Assad supporters Russia and Iran, in Vienna this week.
Friday’s multilateral meeting in the Austrian capital is the first to include Iran in efforts to find a political solution to end the four-and-a-half year Syrian civil war, in which at least 200,000 people have died and millions have been displaced.
Shannon said the Russian bombing campaign that began a month ago had markedly changed circumstances in Syria and provided an opportunity to gauge whether the Russians would be willing to try to convince Assad that he must eventually leave power.
“The secretary thought it was time to bring everybody together and effectively call their bluff, determine whether or not ... their public commitment to fighting (Islamic State) and terrorism is a meaningful one and the extent to which they are prepared to work broadly with international community to convince Mr. Assad that during a political transition process he will have to go,” Shannon told lawmakers at a hearing on his nomination to become the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, effectively the third-ranking U.S. diplomat.
Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Bill Trott and Lisa Lambert