Syria: Iran invitation throws peace talks into 'disarray'

Syrian Opposition threatens to boycott talks after Ban Ki-Moon extends invitation to Tehran

THE SYRIA peace talks are "in disarray" after UN chief Ban Ki-Moon invited Iran, which supports the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, to join preliminary discussions in Switzerland.

Tehran has accepted the invitation and Ban says he has received assurances that Iran would "play a positive role in securing a transitional government", the BBC reports.

But the news has angered Syria's main opposition group which says it will pull out of the talks if Iran is at the table. Tehran is a key supporter of Bashar, the Syrian leader who they are trying to overthrow.

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The US is also unhappy with the development. It said Ban should withdraw the invitation unless Iran gives "explicit" support to the conference's aim of setting up a transitional government in Syria, reports Sky News.

None of this bodes well for the talks which are scheduled to begin on Wednesday in Montreaux.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday Ban said he had extended a late invitation to Tehran after "intense talks over two days" with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

"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. "He assured me again and again that Iran, if they are invited... will play a very positive and constructive role."

If Iran does attend the preliminary talks there will be 40 countries and a group of regional bodies at the opening meeting, Sky says. The discussions will be "the most intensive diplomatic effort yet to end a war that the UN says has left well over 100,000 dead".

Syrian opposition leaders had earlier vowed to "maintain a tough line" in this week's talks after agreeing, for the first time, to take part. Although they said they would attend the so-called Geneva 2 talks and sit in the same room as Assad's envoys they said they would not shake hands with them, the Financial Times reports.

"We will stay the course, we will never agree on anything that does not fulfil the Syrian people's aspiration for real and genuine change," said Monzer Akbik, chief of staff for Ahmad Jarba, president of the Syrian National Coalition prior to the news about Iran.

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