Iran not on Syria peace meet list: UN

January 07, 2014 - 6:37:15 am
Beirut/brussels: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday started sending out invitations to a Syria peace conference this month, but Iran was not on the list, a spokesman said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet on January 13 in a bid to decide Iran’s role in ending the nearly three-year-old war, said UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.

Russia backs the participation of Iran, a major backer of President Bashar Al Assad, at talks scheduled to start in Switzerland on January 22.

The role of Iran is one of many obstacles that have bedeviled efforts by Ban and UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to organize the conference. 

Syria’s main opposition National Coalition re-elected Ahmad Jarba as its leader during a general assembly meeting in Istanbul, the coalition said in a statement. Jarba won 65 votes, beating his only rival Riad Hijab — the best-known defector from the regime of President Bashar Al Assad ­— by 13 votes.

Jarba, who is seen as close to key rebel backer Saudi Arabia, was first elected to head the Coalition in July, and will now lead the group for another six months. His re-election comes at a sensitive time, less than three weeks away from slated peace talks in Switzerland that would bring rebels and regime representatives to the table.

The Coalition is set to discuss whether to take part in the peace talks, though a key bloc — the Syrian National Council — has already announced it will boycott the so-called Geneva 2 process.

That has raised fears the Coalition may end up rejecting the talks altogether. According to council member and veteran dissident Samir Nashar, “Ahmad Jarba does not want to go to Geneva.”

The Coalition initially announced the names of three members chosen to share the vice presidency, but later said ther would be a fresh vote Monday for both that post and to elect a secretary general.

It was expected that either powerful, Qatar-linked businessman Mustafa Al Sabbagh or the current post-holder, Badr Jamous would be named to the latter post.

Born in 1969 in the northeastern city of Qamishli, on the border with Turkey, Jarba is a Sunni Muslim who has tried to convince Arab and Western nations to arm the rebels. In his six months as Coalition leader, he has appeared more subdued than previous opposition chiefs who had higher profiles as veteran dissidents.

 Meanwhile, US officials said in Brussels yesterday Iran could improve its chances of playing a role on the sidelines of Syria peace talks this month by working with Damascus to stop the bombardment of civilians and improve humanitarian access.

“There are ... steps that Iran could take to show the inernational community that they are serious about playing a positive role,” one of the officials said. “Those include calling for an end to the bombardment by the Syrian regime of their own people. It includes calling for and encouraging humanitarian access.” Another official made clear that the comment on bombardment referred to Syria’s biggest city, Aleppo.

However, one US official said Washington still believed it was “less likely than likely” that Iran would play any role at the January 22 peace conference on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, even on the sidelines.

Another official said Iran and the United States had not discussed the matter directly. All the officials declined to be named.

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday reiterated US opposition to Iran being a formal member of the so-called “Geneva 2” talks because it does not support the 2012 international agreement on Syria, dubbed “Geneva 1”. Rival Islamist rebel groups fought in the Syrian city of Raqqa on Monday, residents said, as local fighters tried to drive out a foreign-led Al Qaeda affiliate which has also seized towns across the border in Iraq.

Activists opposed to President Bashar Al Assad said dozens of Syrian members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant had changed sides to join other Sunni Islamist factions which have taken advantage of a local backlash against the ISIL and the foreign Al Qaeda jihadists prominent among its commanders.

The battles in Raqqa, a provincial capital on the Euphrates river in Syria’s largely desert east, left bodies clad in the black favoured by Al Qaeda fighters lying in the streets. They followed similar violence elsewhere in recent days that have seen the ISIL lose manpower and abandon some of its positions.

“The ISIL has split roughly into two groups - locals who are beginning to defect and foreign fighters who seem intent on going on fighting,” Abedelrazzaq Shlas, an opposition activist in the province, said.

The fighting comes as groups in Iraq identifying themselves as ISIL have seized Sunni Muslim towns hundreds of miles away on the Euphrates in Iraq, challenging a Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad which they see as allied, like Assad, to Shia Iran.