Iran has been blocked by the U.S. from participating in the UN peace talks over Syria scheduled for January. The UN publicly welcomes the nation, but the U.S. has reservations about Iran, the main supporter of Assad and main regional ally of the Syrian state. America has not flatly refused Iran, however–Iran is still “on the list” as a possible invitee. The goal of the U.S. in Syria is a political transition, and the U.S. has proposed that Iran might participate on the condition that Tehran issue a public statement that it will work towards this goal.
Iran has stated that it wants peace talks but that it will not submit to the preconditions.
Today Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, and Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, spoke by telephone about Iran’s position. Zarif was quoted as stating that Iran “insisted on a political solution” that includes talks between the warring Syrian parties.
This statement is in harmony with the UN’s goal for the Geneva meeting–being called Geneva II.
The goal of the UN meeting according to Brahimi is to achieve an agreement between the Syrian government and the opposition with a end-goal of stopping violence and establishing a transition government made up of both groups (as outlined in the June 30 2012 Geneva Communique).
In order to achieve peace two delegations will have to agree at the Geneva II meetings, scheduled to begin January 22–actual negotiations between the two delegations are scheduled to take place January 24.
The U.S. has particular reservations about Iran, however a senior U.S. official was quoted as saying Friday, “Iran in this instance is the only country that has put its own military people into the fight on the ground, that is a unique position.”
Thirty countries have been invited to the Russia-U.S. initiated meeting. Besides the five permanent UN members–U.S., Britain, Russia, France, China–Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Qatar, Egypt, Brazil, Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon have also been invited.
Last month Brahimi traveled to these countries to create the conditions that would allow the UN meetings. Brahimi had said that all those he visited expressed great interest in the meetings because of the great attention being paid Syria and generally because of the crisis situation there.
Iran is the only interested nation specifically excluded from the meeting, but Iran is not the only barrier being faced by those working toward the UN meeting.
The opposition forces are greatly divided in their goals and their positions on the talks. Friday, one of Syria’s top rebel group leaders called for unity among the ranks of rival groups ahead of the UN peace talks. Another leader vowed to sabotage the meetings and labeled anyone in favor of the talks a traitor. Some groups will only negotiate on condition of Assad’s retirement after the transitional period.
The Syrian government’s position is that Assad should stay in power until mid-2014 when his term is up, at which time the decision would be his to make.
Some opposition groups refuse to negotiate with the Syrian government and to recognize any results that might come from such negotiations, stating that participants are accomplices to a sell out: “Geneva is an attempt to resuscitate the regime,” said one such leader in an Al Jazeera TV interview. Some groups also oppose the participation of Iran, Saudi Arabia and other neighbors in the peace talks.
In an attempt to prepare these groups for the January meetings, their representatives have been invited to Spain on January 9 by the Spanish Prime Minister to try to consolidate their purposes. All delegates to the UN meetings are expected to be submitted by December 27.
The Syrian civil war began March 2011. In those three years an estimated 130,000 deaths have occurred and approximately 8.8 million refugees have been created inside Syria and internationally. Over two million refugees have relocated to neighboring nations.
The two sides of the war are composed on the one side of the Syrian Army and Hezbollah (based in Lebanon), supported by Russia and Iran, and on the other side the rebels, supported by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Iran, however, maintains that it has no official military presence in the country and its aid is strictly humanitarian. The UN has characterized the war as “overtly sectarian in nature,” between Sunni rebels and a Shia establishment.
In recent days Aleppo has been bombarded by systematic air strikes against rebel-held areas, resulting in over 100 civilian deaths. The UN Security Council drafted a statement condemning the Syrian government for these attacks, but Russia blocked the statement. Russia refused any mention of Assad’s tactics, and the statement was withdrawn.
Yesterday, Russian, Syrian, US and UN officials met in Geneva to prepare for the January meetings. Officials notified press that the Syrian government was prepared to participate in the peace talks unconditionally, but that the opposition government was still not committed, and that the U.S.-Iran stalemate left Iran blocked.
By Day Blakely Donaldson