Talks designed to seek peace in Syria began Friday in Vienna, and this time there's a new player involved in the negotiations: Iran, Bashar al-Assad's No. 1 ally, Reuters notes. "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," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif boasted Thursday. But the invite wasn't necessarily extended just to make Iran feel wanted. It was a strategic move designed to give Secretary of State John Kerry a chance to size up Iran's (and Russia's) willingness to combat ISIS in Syria, as well as how well they'd handle thoughts of a new leader in Syria, a State Department rep tells Reuters. And that last part is the one part the US, as well as its European allies and Saudi Arabia, aren't budging on: They want Assad—who isn't represented at all in Vienna, per the AP—out, the news agency notes.
Not that Iran looks likely to sway. A senior Iran official tells Reuters that Assad is the best guy for the ISIS elimination campaign right now, and that "we have been helping Syria on this matter and will continue to do so as long as it is needed by the government." Another challenge Kerry faces in Vienna: tamping down the tension between rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, now negotiating together in a scenario that was "unthinkable" just a couple of weeks ago, the New York Times notes. Things still didn't look good on Thursday, though, with the Saudi foreign minister saying they'd leave if Iran wasn't "serious" about ousting Assad, and Assad's information minister replying by recommending the Saudi rep "keep his mouth closed."