No agreement on Iran invite to Syria conference

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Associated Press

Posted on December 20, 2013 at 11:03 AM

Updated Friday, Dec 20 at 3:36 PM

GENEVA (AP) — The U.S. is blocking Iran's participation at the Syria peace conference planned for next month. but the other delegations have been agreed on and will include other regional players such as Saudi Arabia, officials said Friday.

The U.N.-Arab League's Syria envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, said about 30 nations would be invited to a day of speechmaking planned for Jan. 22 in the city of Montreux, and Iran's participation was the only sticking point, but was still a possibility. The Syrian opposition also has opposed Iran's involvement.

"Our partners in the United States are still not convinced that Iran's participation would be the right thing to do," Brahimi told a news conference. "We have agreed that we will be talking a little bit more to see if we can come to an agreement on this question."

His comments came after a day of meetings with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. — and Syrian neighbors Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

Along with those nations, other invitees include Algeria, Brazil, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The actual negotiations between Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and opposition representatives begin on Jan. 24 at the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva.

A senior U.S. official told reporters on condition of anonymity that the U.S. objected to Iran's participation because it hasn't publicly endorsed the principles from the first Geneva peace conference on Syria in June 2012 and is providing financing and military personnel to militias including the Iranian-allied Lebanese Hezbollah group that has backed Assad's troops. The official wasn't authorized to speak on the record about the matter.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard has said it has high-level advisers in Syria, but denied having fighters there.

The meetings Friday included Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers Mikhail Bogdanov and Gennady Gatilov, whose country is Syria's main ally, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Syrian neighbors who have been struggling to cope with the conflict and the more than 2.3 million Syrian refugees.

Disputes over who should represent the Syrian opposition and government, and whether Iran, Saudi Arabia and other regional powers should be at the table, have blocked previous attempts to bring Syria's warring sides for peace talks.

Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement that Bogdanov, who is the Russian president's special envoy for the Middle East, met Thursday with the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition's Secretary General Badr Jamous and other coalition officials.

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