The main question haunting the international community is whether or not to invite Iran to the Geneva II Syria Peace Talks. The proposed talks have come to fruition after months of hard bargaining between the opposition Syrian National Coalition and Bashaar al-Assad’s regime. The talks are to begin in Montreux, on Wednesday and then move on to Geneva on Friday. It would be the first time ever that the representatives of the Syrian opposition and mediators from Assad’s government will meet face to face, in order to resolve the three years old civil war in Syria.
Even before the start of the crucial negotiations the talks have hit a major snag on the important issue of whether Iran should or should not be invited to the Syrian peace talks. It all started when United Nation’s Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, invited Iran to the peace talks. This move on part of UN enraged the opposition Syrian National Coalition and the U.S.
The Syrian opposition is adamant that it will be no part of a negotiation process in which Iran is a participant. This is because the Syrian opposition holds, and rightly so, that it is Iran which is keeping the unpopular Assad regime in power. Iran provides money, weapons and even fighters to the regime against the opposition. The Iranian Quds Force and the Lebanon based terrorist militants belonging to Hezbollah are fighting the war alongside the government forces of Assad.
John F. Kerry and the U.S. Department of State were also visibly unhappy on this invitation by the United Nations to Iran to join the Geneva II talks. It took a long day of hard negotiations between Kerry and Ban before the United Nations rescinded its invitation to Iran to attend the Syrian peace talks.
Russia, on the other hand, insists that if some substantial headway is to be made through these talks, then Iran must be one of the participants among forty other countries taking part in the peace talks. The American view-point on the issue is that Iran can only be a part of these peace talks if it agrees to the terms laid down in Geneva I talks held in 2012. According to the Geneva I, it was mutually agreed by all the participants involved that any future Syrian peace talks must include the article of the formation of a transitional set-up without Assad. Iran, at present, is not ready to abide by this resolution, as it wants to be a part of the Syrian peace talks without any precondition attached.
What has further complicated the situation in Syria is that on one hand Iran is supporting Assad’s Shiite regime; however, pro-Al-Qaeda Sunni militants, from all over the globe, have converged on Syria to support the opposition. These militants are basically sponsored by Saudi Arabia, the major Sunni power in the region. This is the most important, and perhaps the most dangerous, aspect of the Syrian civil war. Moreover, the Syrian conflict has potentially spilled over into the neighboring Iraq. In Iraq the Shiite government of Nuri al-Malaki is fighting the same Sunni militants that are carrying out the civil war in Syria. These factors combined have made Middle East, the most dangerous region in the world.
Whatever, the final outcome of the Syrian peace talks, and whether the Syrian opposition likes it or not Iranian presence is must at Geneva II, if something substantial is to be achieved through these diplomatic efforts.
By Iftikhar Tariq Khanxada