UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has rescinded an offer to include Iran in this week's Syria peace conference. The decision came after the Syrian opposition threatened to boycott the talks.
Ban said on Monday he was withdrawing an offer for Iran to attend the Geneva 2 talks less than 24 hours after making it. Shortly after the UN announced its decision, the main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, confirmed its participation in the conference.
The talks, which are slated to begin Wednesday in the Swiss resort town of Montreux, will be attended by high-ranking delegations from the US, Russia and nearly 40 other nations. Direct negotiations between the Syrian regime and the opposition, the first since the outbreak of the near three-year civil war, will begin on Friday.
Conference in jeopardy
The opposition's reaction to Iran's participation put the entire event in jeopardy. Iran is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government. The opposition has said any peace agreement must include a Syria without Assad at the helm, but the embattled leader has so far indicated he has no plans to step down.
The Syrian National Coalition had voted to attend the conference on Saturday, but following Tehran's invitation, issued an ultimatum. Iran had to publicly commit to withdrawing its "troops and militias" from Syria and stick to a 2012 plan to establish a transitional government, or the UN must rescind its offer for Tehran to attend the talks.
On Sunday, Ban said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had assured him that Tehran supported the 2012 transition plan for Syria. On Monday, however, Iranian officials said they were not supporting the plan as the basis for talks. By Monday night, the secretary-general had gone back on his invitation.
"The secretary-general is deeply disappointed by Iranian public statements today that are not at all consistent with that stated commitment," Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.
"He continues to urge Iran to join the global consensus behind the Geneva Communique," Nesirky added. "Given that it has chosen to remain outside that basic understanding, he has decided that the one-day Montreux gathering will proceed without Iran's participation."
US welcomes Ban decision
The decision by the UN to offer Iran a seat at the table in Switzerland had also generated a strong response from the United States, which said it should be rescinded. On Monday the State Department welcomed Ban's announcement, saying it hoped the focus could be shifted back towards ending Syria's civil war.
"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," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki in a statement.
dr/lw (AP, AFP, Reuters)