Dem lawmaker critical of Iran’s invite to Syria talks

Dem lawmaker critical of Iran’s invite to Syria talks
© Greg Nash

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee is offering criticism of the Obama administration’s willingness to allow Iran to take part in multinational talks about ending violence in Syria.

A day after the State Department acknowledged that Iran would be invited to the talks this week, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump says lawmakers should censure Schiff Schiff says committees will eventually make impeachment inquiry transcripts public The comments and actions of Schiff demand his formal censure MORE (D-Calif.) told MSNBC that Tehran’s presence would be “a big shift” that could be interpreted as a “reward” for its meddling in the four-year-old civil war.

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“They are definitely part of the problem,” Schiff said on the cable news channel.

“At some point they will be part of the discussion on the end game, but right now I don’t think that’s where they’re going to play a constructive role,” he added. “And I’m concerned with the impact this will have on our allies, the Saudis and others, how they’ll perceive this overture to Iran.”

Instead of trying to force Bashar Assad from, power, Schiff said, Iran would likely dig in behind the embattled Syrian leader, whom they have long supported.  

“Their aim is to preserve this ally and frankly I’d be concerned about the optic of reaching out to Iran and the Russians,” Schiff said. “It seems to reward them for their military intervention, for doubling down their support of Bashar al-Assad."

Schiff’s comments follow a slew of critical remarks from congressional Republicans, who blasted the U.S.’s willingness to engage with Iran.

According to reports, Russia invited Iran to the diplomatic negotiations in Vienna this week — not the White House. Still, the Obama administration’s willingness to let Iran have a seat at the table represents a major shift in Washington’s approach to Tehran following the landmark nuclear deal reached earlier this year.

On Wednesday, the White House defended Iran's presence at the talks. 

“The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict in Syria," spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters aboard Air Force One. "Our bottom line is we believe it’s important for all key stakeholders to be present."

“The invitation for Iran to participate in these discussions does not overlook the underbelly of Iran’s ongoing relationship with [Syria], including the propping up of the Assad regime and its continued support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah," Schultz added. 

In addition to outrage from Washington, the move is also likely to stoke ire of Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia, which is also expected to participate in the talks.

Obama spoke with Saudi King Salman on Tuesday, with the two pledging to keep "cooperating closely" on Syria, the White House said.

Jordan Fabian contributed.

- Updated at 12:58 p.m.