The most controversial guest on the list has received an invitation to a preliminary meeting for the Geneva peace negotiations; surprising many, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon welcomed Iran to the Syrian talks. Ban Ki-Moon asked observers and participants to “keep one thing in mind: the end of the suffering of the Syrian people and the beginning of a transition to a new Syria,” and stated his belief that it was important for Iran to be a part of the solution in Syria.
Ban made the announcement late Sunday. Ten additional countries have been invited to the preliminary meeting Wednesday in Montreux, Switzerland, including Iran. The original guest list included foreign ministers from 30 countries. The purpose of Montreux is not to begin negotiations but to show solidarity for the mandated cause and to show support generally for the peace process and the Syrian people.
The official purpose of the talks set to begin Friday is the creation of a transitional government with full executive powers supported by the various rival factions currently at war in Syria. The initiators of the process were the U.S. and Russia, who have been trying to begin the process since last year. Since the U.S. and Russia are the initiators of the process, these two countries must approve any participants at the peace talks. America and Russia were uncertain about Iranian participation because Iran is Syrian President Assad’s biggest ally and the two countries had doubts about what Iran’s purposes would be at the talks if invited.
America and Russia have been insisting that Tehran publicly endorse the agenda of the talks. Iran has not made such a statement. But Sunday, Ban Ki-Moon made assurances that he had spoken with Iranian representatives over the past days and that Iran understood the basis of the talks: that the goal of negotiations was the transfer of power to an interim government to be followed by a democratic election.
The Geneva peace talks will begin Friday and will be mediated by Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria. The talks will include participants from the President and opposition parties. These will be the first such direct talks between the warring groups in their three years of conflict.
The U.S. State Department stated that it still has concerns about Iranian participation at the talks. The State Department announced that Iran’s invitation must be rescinded if Iran does not publicly accept the mandated goals of the June 2012 Geneva Communique.
Probably the most important party to be surprised by the invitation of Iran to the talks was Syria’s main Western-backed group. The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) only agreed to attend the Geneva peace talks late Saturday and under significant pressure from its backers. The SNC does not support Assad’s presidency and also does not want Iran to have a role in the interim government.Assad’s supporters have maintained that the President has a right to run in future elections.
SNC officials did not accept the invitation, calling it “illogical”, and stated that it will boycott the Geneva talks unless Iran’s invitation is rescinded.
The recent, surprising invitation of Iran to attend preliminary talks in Switzerland, although made in hopes that an important contribution could be played by Iran in the Syrian peace conference, could lead to an abortion of the Geneva 2 talks just as Geneva 1 ambitions were thwarted in 2012 due to an inability to compromise.
By Day Blakely Donaldson