Tehran says UN’s rescinding of invite is deplorable while Moscow says Iran’s absence could jeopardise peace talks
Bashar al-Assad’s key international allies in Moscow and Tehran have reacted angrily to the UN’s decision to rescind Iran’s invitation to this week’s peace talks on the crisis in Syria.
The UN hastily withdrew its surprise invitation after pressure from the US and a threat that the Syrian opposition would boycott the talks.
The build-up to the talks, which are due to start in the Swiss town of Montreux on Wednesday, is being overshadowed by Iran’s non-attendance, and new evidence showing the Syrian government has been involved in the systematic killing of thousands of political detainees.
Iran, which is accused of providing military and financial backing to the Assad government, said the decision to withdraw its invitation was deplorable.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who helped broker the talks with his US counterpart, John Kerry, said the decision was a mistake. While it was not a catastrophe, it made the slim prospect of an agreement less likely, he said.
Speaking at his annual press conference in Moscow, Lavrov said Iran’s presence at the event would have given it more chance of succeeding.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking to reporters in Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat, said it was “regrettable” that UN chief Ban Ki-moon had rescinded his invitation and that Tehran had only accepted it reluctantly in the first place.
“Unfortunately, Ban Ki-moon came under pressure after extending an invitation to Iran,” he said, according to the semi-official Isna news agency. “We were not eager to participate in the first place and had only decided to attend because we were invited.”
He added: “It is disappointing that Ban Ki-moon does not have the courage to announce the reasons why he retracted his invitation … It is regrettable that he is demonstrating such behaviour.”
Zarif said the decision not to state the reason for the retraction was more regrettable than the retraction itself.
“They said the withdrawal of the invitation had to do with the statements inside our country but this shows that they are unwilling to admit that they withdrew it due to pressure from the US and certain groups who have the blood of Syrian people on their hands.”
He added: “We said, from the beginning, that we accept no precondition for Iran’s presence at the Geneva II meeting since Iran has had an important role in this region and they cannot ignore this role.”
Earlier, Iran’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said: “From our point of view, the withdrawal is deplorable.”
On Monday it emerged that Ban had invited Iran to the talks without first asking Tehran to agree to a transitional government in Syria, as set out in the first Geneva agreement made in 2012.
As soon as Iran’s invitation was rescinded, Syria’s opposition national coalition confirmed its participation in the forthcoming talks, known as Geneva II.
Lavrov reiterated the position of Syria and Iran that there should be no preconditions for dialogue: “We will put forward our hope that direct dialogue between the Syrian sides will take place with no preconditions,” he said.
He echoed comments made by Assad in an interview with Agence France-Presse by saying that the most important issue on the agenda was “the growth of extremism and terrorism” in Syria.
Commenting on the latest war crimes allegations, Lavrov said that the first task was to stop the armed conflict: “Afterwards as part of national reconciliation, yes, then there is international experience of setting up truth commissions and so on. But the facts need to be checked.”
Ban’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said the secretary general “continues to urge Iran to join the global consensus behind the Geneva communique. 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.”
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