With Syria talks in disarray, UN yanks invitation to Iran

GENEVA: The United Nations has abruptly rescinded an invitation to Iran to participate in talks organized by the major powers on a political settlement of the three-year-old conflict in Syria.

The plans for the so-called Geneva II negotiations had been thrown into disarray Monday with both Washington and the US-backed exile front, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), issuing ultimatums to the UN to drop its last-minute invitation to Iran to participate.

The controversy, coming just two days before the so-called Geneva II negotiations were set to open in Switzerland, appeared to threaten the cancellation of the so-called peace conference.

The US, Britain and France, together with their so-called “rebel” stooges based in Turkey, have opposed the participation of Iran, which is, together with Russia, the closest ally of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. The major Western powers see Tehran’s presence as inimical to their main goal in convening the talks, which is to secure through diplomatic pressure what their protracted and bloody proxy war for regime change has been unable to achieve.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who announced the invitation to Iran on Sunday, described himself Monday as “dismayed” by the uproar triggered by the move and said he was reviewing the UN’s options.

The pretext for Washington’s demand that the invitation be dropped is that Iran has not explicitly and publicly signed on to the terms of the so-called Geneva I communique, drafted in June of 2012 at a conference in which no Syrians participated. This document calls for an end to hostilities and the formation of a “transitional governing body” formed by members of the Assad government and the opposition “by mutual consent.”

The Obama administration has interpreted this as a demand for the immediate and unconditional removal of Assad from power, something that is nowhere stated in the communique.

Ban Ki-moon asserted Sunday that Iran had been invited after the country’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, had agreed to the essential terms of Geneva I. “Foreign Minister Zarif and I agree that the goal of the negotiations is to establish, by mutual consent, a transitional governing body with full executive powers,” Ban said.

The deal would have made Iran one of 30 countries attending the opening of the talks on Wednesday, though it would not be directly involved in the UN-mediated peace talks that were to begin in Geneva on Friday between the Assad regime and the Western-backed opposition front. Among those attending are governments that have been most intimately involved in funneling arms, money and foreign jihadists to the so-called rebels, such as the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

Iranian officials, however, subsequently denied that Tehran had signed on to anything. “As announced before, we do not accept any precondition to take part in Geneva conference II, and based on the official invitation participate in the talks without any precondition,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said Monday.

Ban Ki-moon seized on these statements Monday afternoon—after the SNC had set a deadline for either the rescinding of the invitation to Iran or its own withdrawal from the talks—saying in a written statement that he was “deeply disappointed” by Iran’s failure to embrace the prescriptions set down in the Geneva I document, claiming that Tehran’s subsequent statements were “not consistent with the assurances he received.”

The UN secretary general also allowed that he was “disappointed” in the SNC’s decision to boycott the talks if Iran was not excluded.

It was not clear how a dispute between Washington and the UN secretary general, who has generally aligned himself on the policies of US imperialism, came close to derailing the talks.

The UN spokesman said that there was nothing “hasty” about the invitation to Iran, and that Washington had been kept fully informed of the gesture. In the end, however, Ban was compelled to buckle under intense US pressure.

Both Russia and the UN special envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, had argued in the months preceding the conference that it was crucial for Iran, given its close ties to the Syrian regime and its influence in the region, to be a participant in the talks.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sharply criticized the Western demands to exclude Iran Monday. “Not to ensure that all those who may directly influence the situation are present would, I think, be an unforgivable mistake,” he said.

It is possible that Washington discovered that no amount of bribes and threats could compel its clients in the SNC to attend Geneva II if Iran were to attend.

It is far from clear that—with or without Iran—anything of major substance can be achieved through the talks in Switzerland. 

The sharp tensions accompanying the Geneva talks, and the likelihood that they will end in a shambles, only underscores the continuing danger of a wider war in the region, despite the Obama administration’s pivot away from direct military intervention and toward a negotiated settlement with Iran last September. www.wsws.org/

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