UN chief Ban disinvites Iran from Syria peace talks

by Reuters
Monday, 20 January 2014 22:18 GMT

(Recasts with U.N. statement, diplomats) By Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols UNITED NATIONS, Jan 20 (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Monday that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon withdrew Tehran's invitation to attend Syrian peace talks in Switzerland this week after Iran said it could not accept a June 2012 deal calling for a political transition for Syria. "(Ban) continues to urge Iran to join the global consensus behind the Geneva communique," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters in a briefing. "Given that it has chosen to remain outside that basic understanding, (Ban) has decided that the one-day Montreux gathering will proceed without Iran's participation." Ban said earlier that Iran's public statement that it did not support the 2012 Geneva deal calling for a transitional government for Syria was "not consistent" with assurances he had been given by Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif before inviting Iran to the Montreux, Switzerland conference. He added that Ban was "deeply disappointed" with Iran's repudiation of the 2012 deal aimed at ending a three-year-old civil war in Syria after Zarif suggested in previous conversations with the U.N. chief that Tehran would embrace it. An unexpected last-minute U.N. invitation for Iran to attend the Montreux peace conference on Syria threw the talks into doubt on Sunday, with the Syrian opposition saying it would pull out unless Ban withdrew his offer. After the United Nations withdrew the invitation, the Western-backed opposition confirmed it would take part in the Syria peace talks, widely referred to as "Geneva 2," scheduled to begin on Wednesday. Shortly before Nesirky addressed reporters, Tehran's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee issued a statement saying: "If the participation of Iran is conditioned to accept Geneva I communique, Iran will not participate in Geneva II conference." Iran and Russia are the main foreign backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Tehran's presence has been one of the most contentious issues looming over the first talks attended by both Assad's government and opponents. U.N. OFFICIALS SCRAMBLING? Nesirky said Iran's disappointing public statement was that it "does not accept that the basis for the Geneva conference ... is the full implementation of the 30 June, 2012 Geneva communique, including the establishment by mutual consent of a transitional governing body with full executive powers." Ban told reporters on Sunday that Zarif indicated that Iran supported the Geneva communique from June 2012. Several Western diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Ban's decision to invite Iran appeared to have been made hastily and that his advisers spent Monday scrambling to prevent a collapse of the Syria peace conference. Nesirky dismissed the criticism, saying countries like the United States were fully aware of the invitation to Iran before it was announced on Sunday. "This was not hasty," he said. "This could not have been a surprise to the U.S. authorities. It was not hasty, and they were fully aware of the timing of the announcement." Still, several diplomats said Ban should not have invited Iran to attend the Montreux talks on Wednesday without first securing a public declaration from Tehran. "He (Ban) probably should have conditioned Iran's invitation on an explicit statement of support for the Geneva communique," a Western diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin disputed suggestions that Ban's decision to invite Iran had been made hastily, making clear all key players had been consulted ahead of time. Asked if Ban had notified Russia and the United States in advance of announcing the invitation, Churkin told reporters: "Of course, everybody was consulted." (Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Sofina Mirza-Reid and Jonathan Oatis)

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