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US, Syrian opposition reject Iran role in Geneva talks

US, Syrian opposition reject Iran role in Geneva talks
Iran's participation in the upcoming Geneva 2 talks on Syria became a major stumbling block during the last ministerial meeting before the conference, with US and Syrian opposition objecting Tehran’s attendance.

“Our partners in the United States are still not convinced that Iran's participation would be the right thing to do,” UN Syria peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said. “We have agreed that we will be talking a little bit more to see if we can come to an agreement on this question.”

Overall about 30 nations are expected to attend the January 22 conference in the city of Montreux, Switzerland, and Iran is not yet off the list, despite strong objections from the Syrian opposition, Brahimi said. The actual negotiations between Assad's government and opposition envoys are scheduled to start two days later on January 24 in Geneva.

Five permanent members of the Security Council, the League of Arab States, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and 26 other countries have so far been added to the list of attendees.

“On Iran, we haven’t agreed yet. But it is no secret that we in the United Nations welcome the participation of Iran,”
Brahimi said.

Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers Mikhail Bogdanov and Gennady Gatilov and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman were among the key attendants during the series of meetings to plan the Geneva conference.

However, the Syrian opposition is still undecided on the makeup of its delegation, thus jeopardizing international efforts for peace, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said.

“There have lately been signals from some [Syrian] opposition members on the desirability of shifting the time of the conference. This is related primarily to the opposition's unpreparedness to announce the composition of its delegation by the planned date, December 27,” Gatilov told journalists as quoted by Voice of Russia.

(FILES) A rebel fighter throws a homemade grenade towards Syrian government forces through a window at a flat in the Salaheddine neighbourhood of Aleppo (AFP Photo / Bulent Kilic)

“The key point is that the opposition should announce the composition of its delegation. Without resolving this issue, it is hard to expect that the conference will take place,” he added.

Brahimi noted that the opposition is expected to announce their representatives in late December or early January. The official Damascus delegation in the meantime will be headed by the Syrian foreign minister Walid al Muallem.

With Geneva 2 conference looming, Gatilov also noted that more negotiations are needed to clarify Iran’s role in the talks.

“We may need additional contacts at the ministerial level in order to clear up the situation around Iran,” Gatilov said.

A Syrian man helps an injured man following an airstrike in Aleppo's Maadi neighborhood on December 17, 2013. (AFP Photo / Mohammed Al-Khatieb)

Meanwhile the Free Syrian Army Commander General Salim Idris asked for unity ahead of the conference saying all rebels who believe in the “goals of the revolution” are “brothers,” Al-Arabiya reports. Idris said that his force will attend the Geneva talks, but could not confirm if any other rebel groups will attend.

On Thursday in an interview with Al-Jazeera, Al Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammad al Jolani announced that his al-Qaeda linked cell will never recognize the outcome of the conference.

“Geneva is an attempt to resuscitate the regime,”
he said warning that its attendees “do not represent the people who sacrificed with their blood” and are “accomplices in selling out the blood that has been shed,” Jolani said.

"We cannot allow the Geneva 2 game to fool the nation, to push us back 50 or 100 years,"
he added.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave his assessment of the Syrian crisis in Moscow noting that Western delegations are being wooed by prospects of Assad staying in power, as a “lesser evil” as compared to radical Islamists who would likely fill the power vacuum.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (AFP Photo / Behrouz Mehri)

“If he had no popular support, the war would have been over a long time ago, the current leadership would have been wiped out, and no one knows what else would have happened there,” Lavrov said, adding that up to half of the population see Assad as the only guarantor of their security.

With regards to Iran’s participation in the upcoming Geneva talks, Lavrov said that almost all the participants agree on the importance of Tehran’s role.

“There are signs of the positive impact Iran could have on the settling process [of the Syrian conflict]. Almost everybody talks about it in private conversations and some officials have started speaking publicly in favor of Iran taking part in the conference,” he said.

Most of those who oppose the participation of Iran, Lavrov added, do this “from ideological considerations rather than common interests.”