Wed, Jan 22, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Out of Syrian talks, Iran casts doubt on success

AFP, TEHRAN and UNITED NATIONS

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif yesterday said the UN had abruptly withdrawn Tehran’s invitation to highly anticipated peace talks on Syria “under pressure.”

“We regret that [UN] Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has withdrawn the invitation under pressure,” Zarif said in remarks reported by the ISNA news agency.

Earlier, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told state television that the chances of Syrian peace talks in Switzerland succeeding without the participation of one of Damascus’ major backers are “not that great.”

“It is clear that a comprehensive solution to the Syria issue will not be found when all influential parties are not involved in the process,” Araqchi said. “Everyone knows that without Iran the chances of a real solution to Syria are not that great.”

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a news conference that Ban’s decision was a mistake, but that Moscow would try to make the negotiations work.

“There is no catastrophe, we will push for a dialogue between the Syrian parties without any preconditions,’’ Lavrov said.

The Iranian comments came a day after Ban withdrew Tehran’s invitation to today’s conference in Montreux, Switzerland, over its refusal to back a communique adopted by an international meeting on Syria in June 2012 that called for a transitional government in Damascus.

ABOUT-FACE

Ban withdrew his surprise invitation to Iran less than 24 hours after he announced it. The unprecedented diplomatic action averted a Syrian opposition boycott of the talks.

The UN leader said Zarif had repeatedly assured him that he “understood and supported” the aim of the peace conference was to set up an interim government.

“The secretary-general is deeply disappointed by Iranian public statements today that are not at all consistent with that stated commitment,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said on Monday.

UN officials said Zarif had promised Ban a statement accepting the Geneva communique would be made, but just before the UN announcement, Iranian Ambassador to the UN Mohammad Khazaee reaffirmed his government’s stance.

Ban had contacts with the US and Russian foreign ministers before excluding Iran, officials said.

The Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition, welcomed the banishing of Iran and said it would go to the talks.

However, the biggest bloc in Syria’s opposition-in-exile, the Syrian National Council, said it was quitting the coalition, as taking part in the talks would renege on its “commitments” to not enter negotiations until Syrian President Bashar al-Assad left power.

AL-ASSAD INTERVIEW

Meanwhile, in an interview with Agence France-Presse published on Monday, al-Assad bluntly ruled out a power-sharing deal, insisting that the peace conference should focus on what he called his “war against terrorism.”

He dismissed the opposition as having been “created” by foreign backers and said nothing could stop him seeking a new term in an election he wants to hold in June.

The Syrian government and opposition are to start face-to-face talks in Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday, the first since the uprising began three years ago.

In other developments, three former international prosecutors accused the al-Assad government of large-scale killing and torture in a report, reported by the Guardian newspaper and CNN television.

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