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The United Nations formally extended an invitation for Iran to attend the Geneva II Syria Peace Summit to be held later this week, much to the surprise of US officials and the chagrin of opposition forces fighting to remove the Damascus government.
Echoing previous statements from BRICS officials that Iran’s presence at the talks is pivotal, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told reporters, “I believe strongly that Iran needs to be part of the solution to the Syrian crisis,” he added.
Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry that Iran’s role was important.
“[The] presence of Saudi Arabia, Iran [are] necessary at the Geneva-2 talks on Syria, it’s obvious for Russia… We’ve called for the [opposition] National Coalition to work with other oppositional groups: the delegation should be truly representative,” said Lavrov.
China has also supported Iran’s participation in the Syria peace talks.
“Proper resolution of the Syria issue will be impossible without the participation and support of regional countries, especially countries with leverage over concerned parties in Syria,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying has previously said.
But according to the US State Department, Iran has to comply with a central condition before it can attend the Syria peace talks.
Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement that Iran has not yet accepted the tenets of the Geneva I communique in 2012 which call for a “transitional body to govern Syria” by the mutual consent of all the summit participants.
Iranian diplomatic officials have assured the UN that they will play a constructive role in the talks, the Secretary-General said.
Iran’s participation has for nearly a year been a source of contention between Russia and the US and has been a partial reason that the peace talks have been repeatedly delayed.
Late on Sunday, Syria’s largest anti-Assad opposition bloc said it was angered by Ban’s announcement and threatened to withdraw from participating in the Geneva II talks on January 22.
According to Reuters, quoting National Coalition spokesperson Louay Safi on Twitter, “The Syrian Coalition announces that they will withdraw their attendance in Geneva 2 unless Ban Ki-moon retracts Iran’s invitation”.
Syria analyst Camille Otrakji, however, says there is no substitute to Iran’s participation in the Geneva II talks because of the influence it wields in the region.
“Russia and Iran must help in pressuring the regime to accept to maintain control on foreign policy and national security matters, while giving up power to a government that is formed by a coalition of parties that manage to win a majority of monitored and free parliamentary elections,” he writes.