Syria: Iran invitation throws peace talks into 'disarray'

Jan 20, 2014

Syrian Opposition threatens to boycott talks after Ban Ki-Moon extends invitation to Tehran

THE SYRIA peace talks are "in disarray" after UN chief Ban Ki-Moon invited Iran, which supports the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, to join preliminary discussions in Switzerland. 

Tehran has accepted the invitation and Ban says he has received assurances that Iran would "play a positive role in securing a transitional government", the BBC reports.

But the news has angered Syria's main opposition group which says it will pull out of the talks if Iran is at the table. Tehran is a key supporter of Bashar, the Syrian leader who they are trying to overthrow.

The US is also unhappy with the development. It said Ban should withdraw the invitation unless Iran gives "explicit" support to the conference's aim of setting up a transitional government in Syria, reports Sky News.

None of this bodes well for the talks which are scheduled to begin on Wednesday in Montreaux.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday Ban said he had extended a late invitation to Tehran 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 said. "He assured me again and again that Iran, if they are invited... will play a very positive and constructive role."

If Iran does attend the preliminary talks there will be 40 countries and a group of regional bodies at the opening meeting, Sky says. The discussions will be "the most intensive diplomatic effort yet to end a war that the UN says has left well over 100,000 dead".

Syrian opposition leaders had earlier vowed to "maintain a tough line" in this week's talks after agreeing, for the first time, to take part. Although they said they would attend the so-called Geneva 2 talks and sit in the same room as Assad's envoys they said they would not shake hands with them, the Financial Times reports.

"We will stay the course, we will never agree on anything that does not fulfil the Syrian people's aspiration for real and genuine change," said Monzer Akbik, chief of staff for Ahmad Jarba, president of the Syrian National Coalition prior to the news about Iran.

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...Ban Ki Moon is eminently sensible in this proposal. Iran has just as much a legitimate interest in the outcome of these talks as does the US or Saudi Arabia (who, it seems, are squawking the loudest, as a result).

The real motives of the various "interested" parties, both the US/Saudis/Sunnis on the one hand and the Russians/ Assad/Iran on the other, are to manoeuvre for position post-Assad; it seems that the grotesque number of casualties on both sides of this conflict is but a mere smoke screen and a side issue.

This conflict is fought on two main issues - Sunni/Shia hatred and US/Soviet/Iran regional rivalry. Saudi Arabia is cynical insomuch it is exercising its oil muscle over the US in return for support for their Sunni vendetta with Assad's Shia allies, vis Hesbollah and Iran et al.

The "surprise" involvement of radical Islamists (for which, read Al Qaeda) has, undoubtedly, acted as a spur on the wider world powers to bring this conflict to a speedy conclusion.

Iran is a lot more relevant to the talks than terrorist supporting Saudi Arabia