The United Nations has thrown its weight behind Iran taking its place at the Syrian peace talks conference in January. The United States has so far resisted moves to grant Iran an invitation.
The places of 31 countries were confirmed on Friday for the upcoming Syrian peace talks conference in January. Attendance by representatives from the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition, the UN, the Arab League, the European Union and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation was also confirmed.
Absent from the list was Iran - an ally of Syria - due to opposition from the US. Talking on Monday, however, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Iran should be allowed to attend the talks in Geneva on January 22, aimed at implementing a peace plan for Syria. Following initial talks on Syria in 2012, the 2014 conference has been dubbed Geneva II.
"Iran can play a very important role," Ban said. "It's a very important regional power. Therefore, logically speaking, and practically and realistically, they should be a part of this meeting."
"But unfortunately there are differences of opinion on this matter... We are still trying to address this issue as soon as possible."
Barrel bombs 'appalling'
Ban said invitations for the conference would be sent out by the end of 2013. He also condemned the "appalling" use of barrel bombs in the Syrian city of Aleppo by the forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.
The British-bases Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 301 people - 87 of which are children - have been killed since raids began in the rebel-held areas in the north of the country on December 15.
The activist group later updated that total by 30, after another attack on Monday. Aimed at unsettling anti-government forces, the barrel bombs are powerful but inaccurate. Filled with explosives and fuel, they are dropped from helicopters and explode on impact.
Opposition Syrian National Coalition [SNC] said on Monday it would not attend the peace talks in Geneva unless the bombing stopped: "If the bombing that the Assad regime is carrying out and its attempt to annihilate the Syrian people continue, then the coalition will not go to Geneva," SNC Secretary General Badr Jamous said in a statement.
Since March 2011, the Syrian civil war has led to an estimated death toll of more than 100,000, according to the UN. Millions have been displaced.
ph/kms (AFP, AP, dpa)