U.N. chief invites Iran to Geneva 2, Syria opposition threatens to withdraw

UNITED NATIONS Mon Jan 20, 2014 7:44pm GMT

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon gives a thumbs up sign at the end of the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria held at Bayan Palace in Kuwait, January 15, 2014. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon gives a thumbs up sign at the end of the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria held at Bayan Palace in Kuwait, January 15, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Stephanie McGehee

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Syria's political opposition said on Monday it will withdraw from international peace talks scheduled this week unless United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon retracts an invitation to Iran, President Bashar al-Assad's main backer.

Washington, however, suggested it could support Iran's participation if it explicitly declares its support for a June 2012 plan for a political transition that the United States says means Assad would have to step down.

"This is something Iran has never done publicly and something we have long made clear is required," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. ""If Iran does not fully and publicly accept the Geneva communique, the invitation must be rescinded.

Ban said earlier that he had invited Iran to attend the first day of talks on January 22 in Montreux, Switzerland and that Tehran had pledged to play a "positive and constructive role" if it was asked to participate.

Less than 48 hours since Syria's main political opposition group in exile, the National Coalition, agreed to attend the talks, dubbed "Geneva 2," it threatened to withdraw.

"The Syrian Coalition announces that they will withdraw their attendance in Geneva 2 unless Ban Ki-moon retracts Iran's invitation," it said in a Twitter post, quoting National Coalition spokesman Louay Safi.

Another senior Coalition member, Anas al-Abdah, told Al-Jazeera TV by phone that the body was "surprised" by the invitation to Iran. "It is illogical and we cannot in any way accept it."

Some 130,000 people have been killed and a quarter of Syrians driven from their homes in the civil war, which began with peaceful protests against 40 years of Assad family rule and has descended into a sectarian conflict, with the opposing sides armed and funded by Sunni Arab states and Shi'ite Iran.

Western and Gulf Arab nations say they have been reluctant to support the idea of Iran participating at all because it is supporting Assad militarily and has never backed a plan for a political transition in Syria agreed at an international conference in Geneva in June 2012.

BAN EXPECTS IRAN REPLY SOON

Ban said he had spoken at length with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in recent days and that he believed Tehran supported for the Geneva 2012 plan.

"He has assured me that like all the other countries invited to the opening day discussions in Montreux, Iran understands that the basis of the talks is the full implementation of the 30 June, 2012, Geneva communique," he said.

"Foreign Minister Zarif and I agreed that the goal of the negotiations is to establish by mutual consent a transitional governing body with a full executive powers," Ban said. "It was on that basis that Foreign Minister Zarif pledged that Iran would play a positive and constructive role in Montreux."

"Therefore as convener and host of the conference I have decided to issue an invitation to Iran to participate," Ban said. "Iran needs to participate as one of the important neighbouring countries."

Ban said he expected Iran would issue a statement soon in response to his invitation.

Earlier this year the United States said that Iran might play a role on the sidelines of the Syria peace conference in Montreux. Tehran dismissed the idea of being relegated to the sidelines, saying it was beneath Iran's dignity.

The key players in the talks are Assad's government and opposition rebels. The Islamic Front, an alliance of several Islamist fighting forces that represents a large portion of the rebels on the ground, said on Sunday it rejected the talks, further dampening hopes of success.

Ban said he had invited on Sunday a total of 10 additional countries to attend on January 22 - the Vatican, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, South Korea and Iran. Speaking to reporters at U.N. headquarters, Ban made clear that the full negotiations between the government and opposition would begin in earnest on January 24 in Geneva.

Syrian opposition groups and Washington, which accuse Tehran of supporting Assad with manpower and arms during the uprising against him, have long had reservations about the participation of Iran, although Ban and the United Nations' special envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, have long backed Tehran's involvement.

While there has been a warming in U.S.-Iranian ties this year including a November 24 deal to curb the Iranian nuclear program, there are no visible signs that this has led to greater improvement in other areas such as Syria, where they are on opposite sides of the civil war.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations, Oliver Holmes in Beirut and Ali Abdelatti in Cairo and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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Comments (3)
Wvandamme wrote:
The Syrian Quislings from this National Council have been betraying their country and people in exchange for millions of dollars. And now they are betrayed by their pay masters. It serves them right and they should have known in advance this could have been the result of their treacherous actions. They thought in exchange for these millions they could deliver Washington the head of Assad. They failed and now they must be careful their heads don’t role. But that’s the risk of waging war. Even a fool knows this.

Jan 20, 2014 9:36am GMT  --  Report as abuse
mato1 wrote:
This is great news Al Qaeda loses another one and Obama will have to find another terrorist group to support.

Jan 20, 2014 12:07pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
Raymond.Vermont wrote:
So lets get this straight, Syrian opposition (a group that don’t even represent the majority of the armed fighters within Syria’s multi-dimensional conflict) are now dictating terms to their own political cooperation, to the Secretary General of the U.N.?

But then again why should both Istanbul and Ankara be represented in any talks?

One or the other…

Jan 20, 2014 12:35pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
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