Syria: Ban withdraws Iran invite to peace talks

Ban Ki'moon's invitation to Iran upset the Syrian opposition. Picture: AP
Ban Ki'moon's invitation to Iran upset the Syrian opposition. Picture: AP
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THE United Nations secretary general has withdrawn his invitation to Iran to join peace talks this week on the crisis in Syria.

A spokesman for Ban Ki-moon announced the withdrawal less than 24 hours after Mr Ban surprised the US and others by saying he had invited Syria’s closest regional ally.

The invitation was withdrawn soon after Iran’s UN ambassador declared that the Islamic Republic would not join the Syria talks if it was required to accept the roadmap sketched during a 2012 Geneva conference on Syria.

The peace conference, due to begin tomorrow, is the biggest diplomatic effort to end the three-year conflict.

Martin Nesirky, a spokesman for Mr Ban, said senior Iranian officials had assured Mr Ban that Iran understood the terms of his invitation.

“The Secretary-General is deeply disappointed by Iranian public statements today that are not at all consistent with that stated commitment,” Mr Nesirky said.

“He continues to urge Iran to join the global consensus behind the Geneva Communiqué.”

The talks are being held in the Swiss city of Montreux, with delegations from the US, Russia and around 40 other countries. Face-to-face negotiations between the Syrian government and its opponents – the first since the civil war began – are due to start on Friday in Geneva.

But Mr Ban’s announcement on Sunday night that Iran was invited to Montreux angered Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group, which over the weekend announced it would join the talks after intense international pressure.

The opposition set a Monday afternoon deadline, saying Iran had to commit publicly by 7pm yesterday to the terms set in the 2012 Geneva talks – the formation of a transitional government for Syria that would pave the way for democratic elections – or the UN should withdraw the invitation.

Senior US officials also said Mr Ban’s invitation had to be withdrawn unless Iran fully and publicly endorsed those terms.

Invitations to the Montreux meeting had been subject to approval by the initiating states, Russia and the US, but the two countries had been at an impasse over Iran.

Amid the anger, Mr Ban said yesterday that he was “urgently considering his options” in light of the “disappointing conduct of some participants” in the peace talks.

“Throughout the Syrian conflict, the Secretary-General has sought to do everything within his power for a political solution, which is the only path forward,” the UN said in a statement yesterday.

However, the National Coalition appears resolute that any transitional government will not involve Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad.

Mr Assad said in an interview yesterday that the possibility of the National Coalition obtaining any ministerial positions in a new government was “totally unrealistic”.

In May last year, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry agreed to try to bring both sides together.

Later, the UN Security Council called for a conference to implement the Geneva communique – a deal on a transitional government agreed at a UN-backed meeting in 2012.