WASHINGTON — The United States announced on Tuesday that Iran may take part in talks to end the civil war in Syria and warned of increased military action against the Islamic State.
On the military front, the Pentagon said it may launch more air strikes and even direct ground attacks by special forces against jihadists seeking to carve out an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
And on the diplomatic side, the State Department said it expected Damascus's key ally Iran to be invited to a new round of talks in Vienna this week on a political solution.
"An invitation to Iran to participate, I think Iranian leaders can take to mean that it's a genuine multilateral invitation," department spokesman John Kirby said.
US officials would not say which power would pass the invitation to Tehran and did not know if Iran would accept, but they said it would be welcome to attend.
Friday's talks in Vienna are seen as a way to end Syria's civil war by creating an interim unity government and paving the way for President Bashar al-Assad's exit.
But, in parallel to this fledgling political process, a US-led coalition is carrying out an air campaign against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.
Testifying to lawmakers, Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said US forces would not shy away from "direct action on the ground" if they see a chance to hit IS targets.
US President Barack Obama's administration has not committed ground forces to back opposition and Kurdish rebels fighting the Islamic State in Syria, but has 3,500 troops in Iraq.
These troops have a "train and advise" role to help Iraqi forces battling the extremist group but were recently drawn into fighting in northern Iraq.
Last week, a US soldier died during a raid in which commandos and Kurdish peshmerga stormed an IS-run jail in northern Iraq and freed 70 captives.
Afterwards, Carter said he expected "more of this kind of thing" and on Tuesday he told senators the coalition would focus on the IS stronghold of Raqa, in Syria.
"We expect to intensify our air campaign, including with additional US and coalition aircraft, to target ISIL with a higher and heavier rate of strikes," he said.
"This will include more strikes against ISIL high-value targets as our intelligence improves." — AFP