The UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said Saturday that Iran’s participation at the Geneva II conference on the Syrian crisis, scheduled for next month, was essential.
Brahimi arrived in Tehran on Saturday, as part of his Mideast tour, which started in Cairo last week, to prepare for talks on resolving the conflict. Over the past week, he was also in Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq and Turkey.
“We believe that the participation of Iran in the Geneva conference is natural and necessary as well as fruitful, so we are hopeful that this invitation is made,” Brahimi told reporters during a news conference in Tehran on Saturday. His remarks were translated by Iran’s English-language channel Press TV.
Brahimi was welcomed in Tehran by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif. It remains unclear whether he will meet with President Hassan Rouhani and Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, Press TV reported.
Brahimi’s statements come ahead of the second round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 world powers — the five permanent members of the Security Council, and Germany — over Tehran’s nuclear program, also in Geneva on November 5 and 6. Ties between Iran and Western powers, most notably the United States, have warmed recently as the Islamic Republic has been perceived as being more amenable to negotiate over its controversial program which it insists is for peaceful purposes. The West, and especially Israel, remain skeptical.
The Geneva II conference on Syria is scheduled for November 23 and 24 and will attempt to get Syria’s rival sides to agree on a transitional government in that country based on a plan adopted in Geneva in June 2012.
It remains unclear whether the divided Syrian opposition will attend the talks next month, which have been put off repeatedly in the past, in part because of fundamental disagreements over Bashar Assad’s fate.
The US and Russia have been trying to bring the Damascus government and Syria’s divided opposition to the negotiating table for months, but the meeting has been repeatedly delayed and it remains unclear whether either side is really willing to hold talks while the war is deadlocked.
The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, has said in the past that it will only negotiate if it is agreed from the start that Assad will leave power at the end of a transition period. Many rebel fighters inside Syria flatly reject negotiating with Assad’s regime.
The government, meanwhile, has refused to talk with the armed opposition, which it refers to as “terrorists,” and has rejected demands that Assad leave power, saying he will stay at least until the end of his term in mid-2014, and will decide then whether to seek re-election.
The Western-backed SNC is scheduled to meet November 1 to discuss the matter further.
Syria’s conflict, now into its third year, has left over 100,000 dead. It has devastated the economy and the country’s delicate social fabric. It has caused 5 million Syrians to flee their homes to other places within the country, and driven another 2 million abroad.
AP contributed to this report.