WASHINGTON - Secretary of State John Kerry is heading into another round of talks on Syria with the monumental task of charting "a course out of hell."
Kerry is scheduled to depart for Vienna Wednesday, where he hopes to advance a peace process. Iran said Wednesday it will attend the international talks, following an invitation from the Russian envoy that would mark Tehran's first appearance at such a gathering. Several top European and Arab diplomats will also be attending.
Before leaving, he offered a dire assessment of Syria's four-year civil war at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
He cited harrowing statistics: one in 20 Syrians killed or wounded; one in five now refugees; average life expectancy down 20 years.
Kerry also said the U.S. was stepping up military efforts against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS.)
He said airstrikes are targeting the 70-mile stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border that militants still control. And the U.S. will help moderate rebels to pressure ISIS' self-styled capital of Raqqa.