Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Ban Ki Moon withdraws invitation to Iran to attend Syria conference

The 'Petit Palace' in Montreux, where the Syria-conference will be held. 

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon withdrew a last-minute invitation to Iran to attend peace talks on Syria on Monday after the Syrian opposition threatened to boycott this week's conference. Ending nearly 24 hours of confusion that dismayed diplomats who have spent months cajoling Assad's opponents to negotiate. Ban's spokesman said Iran was no longer welcome at the initial day of talks at Montreux, Switzerland on Wednesday.
The opposition immediately withdrew its threat to stay away from the conference known as Geneva-2. We appreciate the United Nations and Ban Ki-moon's understanding of our position. We think they have taken the right decision," Monzer Akbik, chief of staff of the coalition's president, told Reuters. "Our participation is confirmed for 22 January.''
Ban's spokesman has said that he made the invitation to Iran after Iranian officials assured him they supported the conclusion of a U.N. conference in 2012, known as Geneva-1, which called for a transitional administration to take over power in Syria - something neither Assad nor Tehran have been willing to embrace.However, throughout Monday Iranian officials made clear that they were not endorsing that conclusion as a basis for the talks."If the participation of Iran is conditioned to accept Geneva I communique, Iran will not participate in Geneva II conference," Mohammad Khazaee, Iran's ambassador to the UN said. Russia said there was no point in a conference without Iran. It did not immediately react to Ban's change of heart. "Not to ensure that all those who may directly influence the situation are present would, I think, be an unforgivable mistake," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Saudi Arabia, Iran's regional foe and the rebels' main sponsor, had said Iran should not be permitted to attend because it had troops on the ground aiding Assad.
While rebels and their Western and Arab allies see the 2012 accord as obliging Assad to step down, the Syrian leader has support from Iran in rejecting that view. Russia, too, though a participant in the 2012 accord and co-sponsor of this week's first direct peace negotiations, says outsiders should not force Assad out. Moscow has said Iran should be at the talks.
Expectations are low all round, but Western diplomats, some of whom had spoken of a "mess" and "disaster" after Ban's unexpected invitation to Iran late on Sunday, said the talks could now provide some start to easing a conflict that has killed over 130,000 Syrians and made millions refugees. The US had earlier called on the United Nations to rescind the invitation to Tehran.
Adding to clouds over prospects for accord, however, Assad said he might seek re-election this year, effectively dismissing any talk of negotiating an end to his rule. In an interview on Monday with news agency AFP, Assad declared that he was likely to run for re-election later this year, making clear that his removal was not up for discussion. "I see no reason why I shouldn't stand," Assad said. "If there is public desire and a public opinion in favor of my candidacy, I will not hesitate for a second to run for election." He ruled out accepting opposition figures as ministers in his government, saying that was "not realistic" and said the Swiss talks should aim to "fight terrorism" - his blanket term for his armed opponents.
The main political opposition National Coalition may have confirmed its participation in Geneva, but it is far from united in this respect, as many of the groups in the coalition voted not to go. According to the Washington Post, which quoted rebel officials, at the meeting on Saturday rebel commanders were threatened with a cutoff of aid if they did not support the peace talks. The Islamic Front, an alliance of Islamist rebel groups that is very powerful in the north of Syria, has denounced the Switzerland talks and refused to attend.

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