UN formally invites countries to Geneva II summit on Syria

US officials hope Iran will press Assad privately, if not publicly, to slow bombing campaign

Ban Ki-moon at the UNGA 2013 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ban Ki-moon at the UNGA 2013 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday formally invited nations to participate in a peace summit on Syria, set to take place in Geneva on January 22.
The UN , Russia and the United States agreed upon a list of nations invited to the second major conference on Syrian reconciliation during a trilateral meeting last month.
After comments from US Secretary of State John Kerry over the weekend suggesting the US might be open to participation from Iran, US officials clarified on Monday that the Islamic Republic would not receive a formal invitation from the secretary-general.
In talks with the UN and Russia, the US insisted that all invitees accept the tenets of a communique issued after the first peace conference on Syria in June 2012. The findings of that summit call for a transitional government entity that recognizes the opposition of the embattled Syrian regime president, Bashar Assad.
“Iran would have to publicly accept the Geneva I communique,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Monday, clarifying that “the main goal” of the conference “is to move towards a political transition.”
Iran has been a benefactor of Assad throughout the Syrian civil war, providing him and his forces with training, arms and financing.
The Obama administration has said that Assad has no role in a future Syria, but Harf said on Monday that his regime “plays a role in putting in place a transitional government.”
On Sunday, Kerry said that Iran already had delegates in Geneva for nuclear talks that could prove helpful on the sidelines of international talks with Syria, should they choose to cooperate.
“Are there ways for [Iran], conceivably, to weigh in? Can their mission that is already in Geneva... be there in order to help the process? It may be that there are ways that could happen,” Kerry said.
But speaking to Reuters, senior US administration officials said that Iran should first press Assad to stop dropping barrel bombs — crudely made, imprecise and very heavy bombs packed with TNT and dropped from helicopters — indiscriminately on heavily-populated areas.
“There are... steps that Iran could take to show the international community that they are serious about playing a positive role. Those include calling for an end to the bombardment by the Syrian regime of their own people...
and encouraging humanitarian access,” said one of the officials.
A second official said that the United States would be satisfied if Tehran were to work quietly with Damascus to achieve those two goals rather than doing so publicly.
“Public or private, we’d take it either way at this point,” the second official said.
The January 22 conference “aims to bring two broadly representative and credible delegations of the Syrian government and opposition to a negotiating table in order to end the conflict and launch a political transition process through the full implementation of the Geneva Communique,” the secretary-general’s spokesman said Monday in a statement.
Months of negotiations has built up stakes for the talks, which will include representation from the Assad government as well as leading opposition groups.
The Syrian Opposition Coalition is meeting in Istanbul this week to determine exactly who will represent the opposition at the Geneva summit.
Syrian opposition forces have fractured in recent weeks, with various al-Qaida groups gaining support, fighting the Assad government as well as one another for resources and territory.Reuters contributed to this report.