UPDATE 4:45 p.m., via the New York Times: “Under intense American pressure, the United Nations on Monday withdrew an invitation to Iran to attend the much-anticipated Syria peace conference, reversing a decision announced a day earlier.”
ORIGINAL POST: In an unexpected hiccup in the run-up to the latest round of Geneva talks on the future of Syria, the UN on Sunday issued a last-minute invitation to Iran to participate. The potential addition of Iran to the peace negotiations has thrown the delicately balanced diplomatic back-and-forth into a state of disarray, potentially derailing the meeting set to begin Wednesday in Switzerland.
The US demanded on Monday that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon withdraw the invitation and the Syrian opposition has threatened to withdraw from the negotiations over the inclusion of Iran, a primary backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. According to CNN, the Syria National Coalition said it would withdraw unless the UN rescinds its invitation to Iran by 2 pm (ET) on Monday.
The US opposition to Iran’s participation is based on the condition that the country must first endorse the mandate of the conference, where the central purpose of the meeting is to establish a “transitional administration that would govern Syria by ‘mutual consent’ of the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian opposition,” according to the New York Times. Another roadblock is the belief held by the Syrian opposition, along with the US and other western allies, that Iran has military personnel engaged fighting rebels inside Syria, according to CNN.
Ban Ki-moon said he invited Iran, the BBC reports, after receiving “assurances that the Iranians would play a ‘positive role’ in securing a transitional government.” The Times reports, however, Iran has “rejected the imposition of any preconditions,” which seemingly contradicts its stance to the UN. In response to Iran’s shifting position, a spokesman for the Secretary General said that Ban is “urgently considering his options.”
The diplomatic balancing act was already a precarious one before Iran was added to the mix. The National Coalition only agreed to participate in the talks on Saturday because they were holding out for a guarantee that Assad would not be involved in any transitional government in the country. On Monday, Assad told Agence France Press, that he refuses any power-sharing arrangement with the political opposition and that he was likely to run for a third term in office.