Syria peace talks may be off the table after Iran invited
A picture taken on January 19, 2014 in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo shows buildings that fell following Government warplanes raids .[AFP]
The Syrian opposition threatened on Sunday to pull out from upcoming peace talks with global powers and the Syrian regime after the United Nations invited Iran to attend the conference.
U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon said Iran had pledged in the talks, due to start on Wednesday in the Swiss town of Montreux, to play a “positive and constructive role” in efforts to end Syria’s civil war.
But the announcement prompted the Syrian National Coalition to warn that it may withdraw from from the negotiations. It warned that it would not attend unless the invitation was retracted.
The Syrian National Coalition had only decided on Saturday to attend the conference and talks between Assad’s government and the opposition are due to start in Geneva on Friday.
Spokesman Louay Safi announced on the coalition’s Twitter account that the opposition group would withdraw “unless Ban Ki-moon retracts Iran’s invitation.”
The United States also said Ban should withdraw the invitation unless Iran, a key backer of President Bashar al-Assad, gives “explicit” support to the conference aim of setting up a transitional government in Syria.
“The United States views the U.N. secretary general’s invitation to Iran to attend the upcoming Geneva conference as conditioned on Iran’s explicit and public support for the full implementation of the Geneva communique,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
“This is something Iran has never done publicly and something we have long made clear is required.”
Ban told a news conference he extended a late invitation after intense talks over two days with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
“Foreign Minister Zarif and I agree that the goal of the negotiations is to establish, by mutual consent, a transitional governing body with full executive powers,” Ban told reporters.
“He assured me again and again that Iran, if they are invited, then they will play a very positive and constructive role,” the U.N. secretary-general added.
The United States and other Western powers had opposed Iran’s attendance at the meeting as long as it refused to accept a communique adopted by the major powers in Geneva on June 30, 2012, calling for a transitional government in Syria.
Washington made a new call for a clear signal from Tehran, a financial and military supporter of Assad, that it back efforts to set up a transitional government.
Up until Ban’s announcement, Iran had only said it would go to the peace talks if there was an invitation without conditions.
Ban, who had joined Russia in supporting Tehran’s presence, said he expected some kind of statement by the Iranian government.
“I believe strongly that Iran needs to be part of the solution to the Syrian crisis,” he said.