Syrian peace talks thrown into doubt after Iran invited by UN
By Bassem Mroue and Lori Hinnant, AP
January 21, 2014, 12:09 am TWN
BEIRUT -- Syria's main, Western-backed opposition threatened on Monday to sit out a peace conference this week aimed at ending the country's crippling civil war, criticizing the last-minute decision to invite Iran and throwing months of diplomatic maneuvering into question.
The invitation to Tehran from Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon came after the U.N. chief said he had received assurances from Iran that it accepted the premise of the talks — to establish a transitional government for Syria, which has been led by the Assad dynasty since 1970.
Ahmad Ramadan, a senior member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said the opposition is "suspending" its participation because an invitation was extended to Iran.
Ban said he had issued the invitation to Iran after "speaking at length in recent days" with Iranian Foreign Minister Javid Zarif, who had "pledged that Iran would play a positive and constructive role in Montreux."
Iran is Assad's strongest regional ally, offering billions of dollars in credit since the crisis began in March 2011. The United States, Saudi Arabia and several countries in the Persian Gulf suspect Tehran is also shipping him weapons.
Invitations to the one-day meeting of foreign ministers at a Montreux hotel had been subject to approval by the initiating states, Russia and the United States, but the two countries had been at an impasse over Iran.