US not ready to budge on Iran role at Syria peace talks

20th December 2013, Comments 0 comments

Washington is standing firm on its stance that Iran has no place at a long-awaited Syria peace conference in Switzerland next month, a senior US administration official said Friday.

"We find it difficult to imagine them at this conference," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi met with US and Russian officials Friday to discuss a guest list for the January 22 peace conference, but he had to acknowledge that the parties failed to resolve the sticky issue of whether Iran could take part.

"Our partners in the United States are still not convinced that Iran's participation would be the right thing," Brahimi told reporters in Geneva, insisting though that Iran's participation was not fully off the table.

The US official however stressed Washington would not budge on its demand that all participants at the so-called Geneva II conference must be committed to a never-implemented agreement reached in the Swiss city in June 2012 calling for a Syrian transition government.

"It is no secret that the United States is very concerned that Iran has not been public about its support for the Geneva communique," the senior US official said.

He also objected to Tehran's military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its backing of the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah fighting alongside his forces.

Tehran should "think about withdrawing its fighters and its support and allowing the Syrian opposition and the regime to in fact construct a transitional government," the official said.

Like Brahimi, the US official stressed that the multinational January 22 opening session in Montreux, northeast of Geneva, "is the beginning of a process."

"No one has said that Iran can't be consulted by the UN, no one has said that Iran can't take actions that would improve the situation," the official said.

Washington, which is also deep in discussions with Tehran on how to implement a landmark deal on the Iranian nuclear programme, would be "happy to see Iran take action, (although) whether that changes our view is a hypothetical question," the official said.

The United States is meanwhile optimistic that Syria's deeply splintered opposition will manage to pull together a delegation to send to the negotiations that is "credible, legitimate and as representative as it can be".

"We have urged the Syrian Opposition Coalition to create an inclusive delegation, including delegates who will have influence on the ground," the official said.

© 2013 AFP

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