The “Geneva II” talks on the future of Syria appear to be back on track after a dramatic day of diplomacy over the question of whether Iran should be involved.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on January 19 had asked Iran to attend but withdrew the invitation on January 20 amid pressure from Washington and threats by Syria's western-backed opposition to boycott the event if Iranian officials are there.
Ban said he had offered the invitation after receiving assurances that Tehran had accepted the goal of establishing a transitional government in Syria that does not include President Bashar al-Assad.
Ban also said he had been assured by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javid Zarif that Tehran was prepared to play a "positive and constructive role."
But Ban’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky, says Ban became concerned about remarks from Iran’s U.N. ambassador suggesting Tehran does not accept the precondition of a transitional government as sketched out during the 2012 Geneva conference on Syria:
“The secretary general is deeply disappointed by Iranian public statements today that are not at all consistent with that stated commitment,” Nesirky said.
The UN chief’s announcement comes after stiff opposition from Washington to the idea of an Iranian presence at the talks, which are scheduled to start in Montreux, Switzerland on January 22.
The talks are aimed at bringing together, for the first time, representatives of Assad's government and members of the opposition that has been fighting to oust his regime.
The opposition Syrian National Council had voted on January 18 to attend the talks after months of debate, then threatened to boycott the event after Ban’s surprise invitation to Iran on January 19.
It responded to to the revocation of the invitation to Iran by reaffirming that its delegates will attend the peace talks after all.
However, the western-backed Syrian National Council does not represent many of the militant rebel groups that are fighting against Assad’s regime.
Those jihadists and Al-Qaeda linked rebel groups have not been offered a seat at Wednesday’s negotiations.
The United States has welcomed the withdrawal of the invitation to Iran, saying it hopes all parties at the talks – including delegates from more than 40 governments -- can now focus on achieving results.
But Russia has described Iran as a major player in the Syrian situation and said Tehran's exclusion would weaken any outcome stemming from the meetings.
Like Iran, Russia has backed the Syrian regime throughout its nearly three-year conflict.
Meanwhile, the founder of the World Economic Forum says Iranian officials will be able interact with many of the key players at Geneva II -- albeit, from the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week.
Klaus Schwab told The Associated Press there will be crossover between the political and financial elites who come to the Davos gathering and world leaders who will be at the Syrian peace talks in Montreux several hours away.
The World Economic Forum, a five-day event in Davos, also is scheduled to begin on January 22.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press, Reuters, and AFP.