The State Department said Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif today in Vienna “to follow up on the steps necessary to implement” the P5+1 nuclear deal.
“Secretary Kerry also raised the cases of our detained and missing U.S. citizens,” spokesman Mark Toner added in a statement.
Kerry is in Vienna for talks on Syria, and State Department press secretary John Kirby characterized the Zarif meeting as very short.
Kirby said he was also meeting with “Quad”: his counterparts from Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. That was “preparatory to a larger multilateral set of meetings tomorrow in Vienna to discuss obviously the ongoing crisis in Syria and the options for pursuing a political transition there.”
Kerry didn’t discuss Syria with Zarif at all, Kirby said. On Tuesday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee that there are “more than 1,000 Iranians that are on the ground in Iraq” and “probably something less than 2,000” Iranians in Syria.
“But the purpose of the meeting was to talk about the JCPOA and implementation,” Kirby said, even though Brett McGurk, the administration’s special envoy for the fight against ISIS, was pictured in a photo standing with Kerry and Zarif. “I have since — I mean, before coming out here, I actually had an opportunity to talk to some of the secretary’s staff members, some of whom were in the meeting, before I came out here, so that I completely understood what was discussed. And it was made plain to me that the topic of Syria and political transition was not discussed.”
“…So the secretary wanted to meet with Foreign Minister Zarif about that topic. They did meet. They discussed it, and that’s where I think I’m going to leave it.”
Kirby added that Kerry is “going to have plenty of time to listen to Foreign Minister Zarif in the multilateral settings tomorrow to talk about what’s going on in Syria.”
He didn’t “rule out” any more one-on-one meetings between Zarif and Kerry as “I do not have his dance card for the entire day.”
“Iran has an opportunity — they have an opportunity to be a more constructive power in the region and to help the international community do the right thing here, which is create a process by which the Syrian people can have a representative, inclusive, responsive government at their head and looking after their interests,” Kirby said.
“Iran can be a part of that. Now, these are decisions Iran has to make, but Iran can be a part of that. To the degree they’re willing, then they’re going to find a willing partner in us to move towards that end. To the degree that they’re not, we are still going to continue to press our concerns. And I don’t just mean vocally. I mean, we’ve got tangible levers at our disposal to deal with Iran’s malign activities in the region.”