Syria’s opposition coalition has suspended its participation in this week’s peace talks in Switzerland after the United Nations asked Iran to join the conference.
The first rebel delegates were due to leave for Switzerland at 10 a.m. local time and had postponed their departure, Badr Jamous, secretary-general of the opposition coalition, said in a phone interview from Istanbul.
The Syrian National Coalition, the main political opposition group, will attend only if the invitation to Iran is withdrawn, or if Iran fully accepts an international plan adopted in 2012 that calls for a transitional government, Jamous said. Iran will attend the talks without preconditions, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said today.
Jamous said the coalition had made its opinion clear on Iran’s participation in previous talks with UN officials and “we can’t understand why we have this surprise 48 hours before the conference.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked Iran, the foremost ally of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, to join 39 other countries at the meeting in Montreux, Switzerland on Jan. 22, in advance of negotiations between Syria’s opposition and government in Geneva starting Jan. 24. The three-year conflict has killed more than 100,000 and forced millions to flee.
Ban said he strongly believes that “Iran needs to be part of the solution to the Syrian crisis.”
“Iran said that they are committed to play a very constructive and important and positive role,” Ban told reporters yesterday in New York. The decision comes after extensive talks with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Ban said.
Soner Ahmed, a coalition spokesman, said the UN “waited to invite Iran until after the coalition’s decision to attend the conference.”
“That is immoral, even in politics,” Ahmed said from Istanbul.
Shada Islam, a director at the Friends of Europe policy advisory group in Brussels, said in a phone interview that “Iran will have to be involved in the Syria talks at some point because you won’t get a durable deal without Tehran.”
Jan Techau, director of the Brussels office of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Ban took a “big risk” by inviting Iran. “To get results, Iran has to be part of the talks,” Techau said. “Still, you could probably have played this more smartly.”
The rebels and the U.S. said that participants at the negotiations must accept the conclusions of the so-called Geneva I talks in 2012, which included Russia. That communique called on the Syrian regime and opposition to establish a transitional government chosen “by mutual consent.”
The opposition says any transitional government must have full executive powers and no role for Assad.
Iran must openly support the creation of a transitional government with full executive powers if it wants a seat at this week’s peace talks in Geneva, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement, according to the Agence France Presse news agency.
State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said in a statement that Iran had failed to support “full implementation” of the Geneva communique.
Psaki said the U.S. was “deeply concerned about Iran’s contributions to the Assad regime’s brutal campaign against its own people” and that if Iran didn’t “fully and publicly accept the Geneva communique,” then its invitation to the talks should be withdrawn.
In an interview with AFP, Assad said there’s a “significant” chance he will seek another term of office. Losing the war would mean “chaos” across the Middle East, according to remarks posted on AFP’s Twitter account.
Asked whether China supports Iran joining the talks, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing it supported “regional countries” taking part in the Geneva meeting.
The U.S. and Russia have been trying to hold the UN-backed peace conference since last year, saying the talks offer the only political solution.
--With assistance from Sangwon Yoon in United Nations, Leon Mangasarian in Berlin and Xin Zhou in Beijing.