Geneva II Peace Conference on Syria in Jeopardy
January 20, 2014 • 6:04PM

On Sunday evening, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced that he had invited Iran to attend the scheduled Geneva 2 peace conference on Syria scheduled to take place on Wednesday, January 22. Iran accepted the invitation, saying it will attend without preconditions.

According to Russia Today, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov welcomed Iran's participation while speaking at a press conference in Moscow on Monday:

"Around 40 countries have been invited to the conference, including Australia, Mexico, Korea, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Lavrov observed. If Iran were not on the list, that would seem profane."

However, the Saudi-controlled Syrian opposition immediately responded to the announcement by threatening to boycott the talks if Tehran participates. Reuters reported that Syrian National Coalition spokesman Louay Safis demanded that Ban Ki-moon retract Iran's invitation.

Anas Abdah, a member of the National Coalition's political committee said "We are giving a deadline of 19:00 GMT for the invitation to be withdrawn."

The ultimatum came just a day after the opposition coalition, facing a boycott by one-third of its members, voted to send a delegation to the peace talks. Of its 118 members, 74 voted while 44 walked out. Of the remaining 74 members only 58 voted in favor of going to Geneva, i.e., less than half of the total members.

Lavrov described the opposition's statement as capricious and proof that its not genuinely interested in resolving the Syrian crisis.

"If one starts being so capricious The government agrees without any conditions to participate in the talks, to which countries which directly provide the opposition with funding and weapons, including those not moderate at all, have long been invited. So what should it do, demand that those countries withdraw?" Lavrov asked. "Negotiations are about bringing to one table not those who you like, but those upon whom solving the problem depends."

According to an AP wire, senior U.S. officials said on Monday that Iran "falls well short of meeting the bar" for participation and its invitation must be withdrawn.

At a United Nations Security Council meeting on Monday to discuss the Middle East, Mr. Ban said of the Syria conference, "Intensive and urgent discussions are underway, and I will have more to say about the situation later in the day." A planned press appearance by Ban after the Security Council meeting was cancelled.

The British ambassador to the United Nations, Mark Lyall Grant said after the Security Council meeting: "So far we have not seen a public assurance from the Iranians, so in our view the Iranians should not be invited."

In an interview with Agence France-Presse, Syrian President Assad said that the talks in Switzerland should focus on the war against terrorism in his country. He described the idea of sharing power as totally unrealistic, and said there was a significant likelihood that he would seek a new term as president in June. (wfw)