Russia demands Iran be included as talks heat up over Syria conference

UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi meeting with US and Russian officials to cobble together confab aimed at ending Syrian civil war

Lakhdar Brahimi at the UN, November 2012 (photo credit: AP/Richard Drew)
Lakhdar Brahimi at the UN, November 2012 (photo credit: AP/Richard Drew)

Damascus, Syria — The UN’s top Syria envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, headed into meetings with senior Russian and US officials Tuesday to see if a UN-sponsored peace conference bringing together Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and a united opposition delegation could be convened later this month in Geneva.

Brahimi also planned to meet with officials from Britain, France, China and four of Syria’s neighbors struggling to cope with the conflict, now in its third year. The UN says over 100,000 people have died.

Russia demanded earlier Tuesday that Iran be invited to the conference, even after Syrian National Coalition chief Ahmad Jarba said his faction would not attend if Iran were there, Reuters reported.

“All those with influence on the situation must certainly be invited… this includes not only Arab countries but also Iran,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Lavrov also criticized the SNC demand for a clear time frame for Assad to step down, arguing there should be no preconditions for the talks.

Diplomats are trying to resume the negotiations that created the roadmap for a Syrian political transition adopted last year in Geneva by key nations, including the five Security Council powers — the US, Russia, China, Britain and France. The roadmap for a political transition starts with the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers and ends with elections, but there has been no agreement on how to implement it. One of the sticking points remains Assad’s role in the future.

Syria’s information minister said the government delegation is not ready to negotiate handing over power or forming a transitional government. Members of the exiled and Western-backed opposition group insist Assad be excluded from Syria’s future leadership for any talks to take place.

In an interview with Syrian state TV late Monday, Omran al-Zoubi said Geneva talks are part of a political process, “and not a handover of power or forming a transitional governing body.”

The conflict began as a largely peaceful uprising against Assad’s rule in March 2011 and gradually became an armed conflict, after some opposition supporters took up arms to fight a government crackdown on dissent.

Over the past year, the fighting took on sectarian overtones with predominantly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting Assad’s regime, which is dominated by Alawites, an offshoot Shiite group.

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