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Syria

Delegations decided for Syria peace talks - except Iran

The United Nations' Arab League envoy to Syria has said the make-up of the delegation to discuss peace talks in Geneva in January has been settled - except in the case of Iran. Thirty-one countries have been invited.

Joining the 31 countries at January's peace talks will be representatives from the Syrian opposition and rebels, the United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union and the Organization of Islamic cooperation.

Iran's place at the table is still to be confirmed, with the United Stations reluctant to green-light the participation of a Syrian ally. "The US is still not convinced Iran's participation would be the right thing to do," Lakhdar Brahimi (pictured above, middle), the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, told reporters after talks on Friday.

"Iran is not off the list for the moment."

Meetings on Friday in Geneva included one between the UN Security Council and Syria's neighbors. The peace talks, scheduled for January 24, will be chaired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. They will be aimed at ending the civil war that has claimed the lives of around 126,000 people and displaced many more. Chemical weapons have been used in fighting, and Syria's President Bashar al-Assad agreed to a dismantling of their chemical weapon arsenal in response to mounting international outcry.

Other dignitaries confirmed include EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Arab League Secretary General Nabil El-Araby.

The delegation of the Syrian government will be led by Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, according to quotes from Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov to news agency AFP.

Crucially, however, the opposition in Syria are yet to confirm their representatives due to internal division.

"Without settling this issue, it will hard to expect that the conference will be held," Gatilov said.

Brahimi said Syria's opposition would not meet the forecasted date of December 27 to deliver their list of names, but he remained confident it would be forthcoming soon after.

US need convincing on Iran

Russia is also an ally of Syria, and Gatilov admitted there was work still to be done to convince the US that Iran should be invited to the peace talks: "We may need additional contacts at the ministerial level in order to clear up the situation around Iran," he said.

In separate talks in the same city, discussions over the curbing of Iran's nuclear program have been extended by one day, to finish on Saturday. Iran is bidding to reach an agreement with UN Security Council members Russia, the United States, China, France and Britain as well as Germany (known as the P5+1) despite maintaining its nuclear work has no military intentions.

ph/msh (AP, Reuters, dpa)