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Iran invite sparks controversy

January 20, 2014

Opponents of the Syrian government have threatened not to attend peace talks in Switzerland after UN chief Ban Ki-moon extended an invitation to Iran. The Syrian National Coalition demanded the invite be retracted.

Syrian flag in the street. (Photo ITAR-TASS/ Mikhail Pochuev)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

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Syria's political opposition has said it will boycott the planned "Geneva 2" peace talks, unless Ban withdraws the invitation for Iran to be represented at an initial meeting of foreign ministers in the Swiss town of Montreaux.

Less than 48 hours after it agreed to join the discussions, the Syrian National Coalition said it could not accept Tehran’s participation in the preliminary talks.

"The Syrian Coalition announces that they will withdraw their attendance in Geneva 2 unless Ban Ki-moon retracts Iran's invitation," said the SNC in a Twitter post. Another SNC member Ana al-Abdah, said the coalition had been surprised by the offer, which was "illogical" and unacceptable.

On a positive note, Washington said that it could accept the idea of Iran participating, but only on condition that it declare support for a June 2012 political transition plan. That plan foresees the establishment of a transitional government body to pave the way for a post-Assad future.

Invitations to a one-day meeting of foreign ministers at a Montreux hotel - taking place ahead of the main meeting in Geneva - had been subject to approval by the initiating states, Russia and the US.

'Explicit and public support'

A statement from the US State Department said it viewed Ban's invitation "as conditioned on Iran's explicit and public support for the full implementation of the (June 2012) Geneva communiqué."

"If Iran does not fully and publicly accept the Geneva communiqué, the invitation must be rescinded," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Ban said that Iranian Foreign Minister Javid Zarif had already agreed to those terms. "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.

How much success the talks might have remains to be seen. Unwillingness by both sides to compromise led to an abandonment of a Geneva I pact in 2012, aimed at establishing constitutional reform.

Some 130,000 people are believed to have been killed in almost three years of fighting in Syria, with a quarter of the country's population driven from their homes.

rc/lw (AP, Reuters)