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In Vienna, Kerry to call out Russia, Iran on Assad's future in Syria

The top US diplomat will test whether Russia and Iran are committed to the Syrian president's future, a US official said. The statement comes as leaders gather in Vienna to hash out a solution to the Syrian conflict.

A US State Department official said that Secretary of State John Kerry's discussions with Iran and Russia aims to "call their bluff" on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's future.

"The secretary thought it was time to bring everybody together and effectively call their bluff," said State Department counselor Tom Shannon.

Shannon added that the talks aimed at determining whether "their pubic commitment to fighting (Islamic State) and terrorism is a meaningful one and the extent to which they are prepared to work broadly with the international community to convince Mr. Assad that during a political transition process he will have to go."

Shannon's statement comes as all international players involved in the Syrian conflict meet to discuss the possibility of a political transition to bring an end to the four-and-a-half year civil war.

Solutions on the table?

The West, Saudi Arabia and Turkey back rebels attempting to oust the Syrian president, while Russia and Iran along with several regional actors

support al-Assad's regime.

Kerry is expected to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov ahead of Friday's talks.

Reports have emerged that the top US diplomat will likely

meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif,

marking the first time both sit at a negotiating table since

Iran and world powers sealed a nuclear deal

curbing Tehran's program in exchange for sanctions being dropped.

However,

there is some doubt

that the countries will be able to set aside their differences as Friday's talks will mark the first occasion that archrivals

Saudi Arabia and Iran enter into direct negotiations.
Pro-Assad forces have made significant advances following Russia's airstrikes in Syria

Pro-Assad forces have made significant advances following Russia's airstrikes in Syria

'Anarchy in the region'

Meanwhile, Lavrov condemned "unilateral actions" in the region, apparently referring to US involvement in Syria.

"Ill-considered, unilateral actions are only pushing the Middle East and North Africa toward further degradation, expanding the space of instability and anarchy in the region," Lavrov said on Thursday ahead of the talks.

The Syrian conflict erupted when Assad's forces cracked down on youth demonstrating against his longstanding rule. According to the UN, more than a quarter of a million people have been killed, and

more than half the country's population displaced.

On September 30, Russia entered the conflict in an apparent bid to bolster al-Assad's forces.

ls/jil (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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