Syria peace talks in doubt over Iran invitation
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Upcoming peace talks on Syria were thrown into doubt on Monday following a surprise UN invitation to Iran to attend the conference. The US demanded the invite be withdrawn and Syrian opposition leaders threatened to boycott the negotiations.
UN secretary Ban Ki-moon had announced on Sunday that Iran had been invited to the “Geneva 2” peace talks, which are due to start on Wednesday in the Swiss town of Montreux.
The West and the Syrian opposition have long said Iran must be barred from the talks unless it first accepts an accord reached in Geneva in 2012 calling for a transitional government for Syria, which they see as a step towards unseating President Bashar al-Assad.
Ban said he had issued the invitation after Iran’s foreign minister assured him Tehran accepted the earlier accord. But Iran said it had done no such thing and had accepted Ban’s invitation “without pre-conditions” - the phrase it has long used to spurn the earlier accord.
This prompted the US to demand the invitation be withdrawn unless Iran yields.
“If Iran does not fully and publicly accept the Geneva communique, the invitation must be rescinded,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Syrian opposition issues deadline
Meanwhile, the main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, threatened to boycott the talks if the UN had not rescinded the invitation by Monday evening.
“We are giving a deadline of 1900 GMT for the invitation to be withdrawn,” Anas Abdah, member of the National Coalition’s political committee, told Reuters.
Iran is Assad’s main foreign backer and its presence has been one of the most contentious issues looming over the talks, the first to be attended by both Assad’s government and opponents.
A Western diplomat told Reuters that the decision to invite Iran had now cast doubt on whether the talks would go ahead at all.
“Is Geneva going to happen? That is the question we can’t answer at the moment,” the diplomat said.
Ban said “intensive and urgent” discussions were underway in an effort to find a solution. “For the moment let me just appeal again for all involved to keep the needs of the Syrian people foremost in mind," he said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)