U.N. stresses Iran’s role in Syria talks

The U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon says Tehran is “a regional player” and can have a major role in helping to end the Syrian conflict

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The U.N. chief dubbed Iran on Monday as an “important regional power” and said it should be allowed to participate in the upcoming Geneva conference aimed at reaching a political solution to end the Syrian conflict, which has claimed an estimated 126,000 lives and displaced millions.

“As I have said before, Iran needs to contribute to peace in Syria along with others in the region,” Agence France-Presse quoted Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as saying.

Ban advocated that “Iran can play a major role” in helping to end the Syrian civil war that started on March 2011.

“It is a very important regional power. Logically, practically and realistically they should be a part of this meeting,” he emphasized.

He also said that he plans to issue invitations before the end of December to the Jan. 22 peace conference and expressed hope that “the question of Iran’s participation is resolved soon.”

On Friday, Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League Syria envoy, said Washington is blocking Iran’s participation. Iran was not included in a list of participants released by Brahimi in Geneva on Dec. 20.

The U.N. chief said “negotiations will be difficult, but without them there is only bloodshed and despair on the horizon.”

He called on all sides in the Syrian conflict to release hostages, end sieges and allow greater humanitarian access.

Meanwhile, the main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, which has previously described Iran as “invader” of Syria, has long rejected Iran’s participation in the peace talks.

Iran is supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and backs Lebanese Shiite group, Hezbollah, in their fights against rebels in the country.

On Monday, SNC said it will not attend Geneva talks if government warplanes keep up their bombing campaign on the northern city of Aleppo.

President Assad’s warplanes have killed more than 300 people in Aleppo in an eight-day bombing campaign that has seen aircraft drop TNT-packed barrels onto rebel-held areas, AFP reported.

“If the bombing that the Assad regime is carrying out and its attempt to annihilate the Syrian people continue, then the coalition will not go to Geneva,” the site of peace talks set for next month, SNC secretary general Badr Jamous said in a statement.

Ban condemned the “appalling” use of TNT-packed barrel bombs in the northern city of Aleppo, which have left hundreds dead.

Opponents of the President Assad accuse his forces of dropping explosives-filled barrels on rebel-held areas in an effort to demoralize their supporters and turn them against the insurgents.

The raids have come as loyalists have pressed forward in several areas in recent weeks, and as Western nations have been preoccupied with Syria’s chemical disarmament and preparing for the so-called Geneva 2 peace talks.

The statement from the coalition also said that its head, Ahmad Jarba, had been in touch with the British and French foreign ministers to tell them about the “daily attacks carried out by the Assad regime using explosive barrels and warplanes, causing dozens of victims.”

The increasingly fractured opposition has said Assad must step down as part of any deal, which Damascus rejects.

(With AP and AFP)

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