As the United States and Russia prepare to hold Syria peace talks in Geneva, Iran, an ally of President Bashar al-Assad, held a peace conference in Tehran.
Iran said the conference, which began on Wednesday, was aimed at finding a political solution to the Syrian conflict and that officials from 40 countries and heads of regional and international organizations were expected to attend.
Iranian television, which broadcast images of the conference, referred to the meeting as a “Friends of Syria Conference”, using the name also used by a grouping of Western and Arab governments who broadly support the Syrian rebels and call for Assad to quit.
Shi’ite Muslim Iran is Assad’s closest ally and has provided money, weapons, intelligence and training for his forces against a mainly Sunni Muslim uprising in which more than 80,000 people have been killed in two years.
Russia and the United States are trying to arrange an international peace conference to end the war but disagree over who should be invited to take part and on any preconditions to be set.
Moscow has said Iran should attend but Western reservations about a role for Tehran already threaten to derail the conference.
Iran has called for elections and reforms in Syria but does not accept Assad’s removal, saying a solution to the crisis cannot be imposed from outside.
Tehran has also accused Western and Arab nations of arming opposition groups.
Iran has welcomed the proposal of an international conference and expressed hopes that it would be a part of the process.