International

UN rescinds Iran’s invitation to Syria talks after anti-Geneva statement

After Ban Ki-moon invited Iran, Islamic Republic said it wouldn’t accept the Geneva road map, putting it in hot water

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had invited Iran to the talks less than 24 hours earlier.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The U.N. secretary-general has withdrawn his invitation to Iran to join this week's Syria peace talks, saying he is "deeply disappointed" by Iran's statements about accepting the basic conditions of the talks.

Ban Ki-moon announced the withdrawal of the invitation to Syria's closest regional ally less than 24 hours after issuing it, after objections by the U.S. and others.

The invitation withdrawal came shortly after Iran's U.N. ambassador declared that the Islamic Republic wouldn't join the Syria talks if required to accept the 2012 Geneva road map.

A spokesman for Ban, Martin Nesirky, said senior Iranian officials had assured the secretary-general that Iran understood the terms of his invitation.

Nesirky told reporters that Ban "is dismayed" by the developments and that Iran, despite assurances, "has made a disappointing public statement" that suggests it doesn't accept the terms of this week's peace talks in Switzerland.

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Senior U.S. officials had said the invitation must be withdrawn unless Iran fully and publicly endorsed the Geneva communique, which prescribed the formation of a transitional government for Syria that would pave the way for democratic elections.

"As we've stated many times, the purpose of the conference is the full implementation of the Geneva communique, including the establishment by mutual consent of a transitional governing body with full executive authorities," read a statement from U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Monday. "We are hopeful that, in the wake of today's announcement, all parties can now return to focus on the task at hand, which is bringing an end to the suffering of the Syrian people and beginning a process toward a long overdue political transition."

A senior State Department official told Reuters on Monday that Iran had made no effort to quell the fighting in Syria and that its participation in Geneva would "not be helpful."

Syria's main Western-backed opposition group had also said that Iran must commit publicly by Monday night to withdraw its "troops and militias" from Syria and abide by those terms, or the U.N. would withdraw the invitation.

The SNC later confirmed it would attend peace talks in Geneva now that the invitation to Iran had been rescinded.

The controversy over Iran's participation in the talks reflects deep differences over Syria between Washington and Moscow — which has been a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al Assad's government, shielding it from U.N. sanctions and supplying it with weapons throughout the civil war.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized the withdrawal of the invitation.

"The absence of Iran isn't going to help strengthen the unity of the world's Muslims," Lavrov said. But he still voiced hope for the talks.

"There is no catastrophe. We will push for a dialogue between the Syrian parties without any preconditions," he said.

Geopolitical obstacles to peace were compounded earlier in the week by comments from Assad, who told the AFP news agency on Sunday that he was likely to run in June's presidential race. He said in an interview there was a "significant chance" he would be a candidate.

"I see no reason I shouldn't stand," he said. "If there is public opinion in favor of my candidacy, I will not hesitate for a second to run for election."

His statement could further undermine a successful outcome for the Geneva conference. Opposition groups have said there is no chance they would accept any resolution at the Wednesday conference that did not involve a transitional government in which Assad had no role.

Other rebel factions, including the Islamic Front, a powerful coalition of Islamist groups,have refused to attend.

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"We continue in our revolution, and we will not accept any political solution before the realization of certain terms," the Islamic Front said in a statement released Monday afternoon. The coalition said it was demanding the release of political prisoners, the resignation of the Assad regime, the exit of all sectarian militias from Syria and a guarantee that foreign powers would not intervene after Assad steps down.

Assad countered, "The Geneva conference must lead to clear results regarding the fight against terrorism. That would be the most important result of the conference. Any political result that did not include the fight against terrorism would have no value."

Assad exclusively refers to the rebels fighting to overthrow his regime as terrorists.

In line with that characterization, sources in Damascus told Al Jazeera on Monday that the Syrian government will demand support from the international community for its "fight against terrorism" in opening remarks at this week's talks.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, who heads the government's 15-member delegation, will also agree to open humanitarian corridors in besieged areas and agree to a ceasefire in Aleppo, the sources said.

Assad has ruled out that the Istanbul-based SNC could be given any ministerial positions in a new government, however, calling it "totally unrealistic."

"They ... come to the border for a 30-minute photo opportunity, and then they fled. How can they be ministers in the government?" he asked. "These propositions are totally unrealistic, but they do make a good joke.”

Al Jazeera and wire services

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