Iran not invited to Syria peace talks in Geneva

U.S. officials said Iran could still participate if it helps stop bombardment of Aleppo

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U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday started sending out invitations to the planned Geneva II peace conference on Syria but Iran was not on the first list, a U.N. spokesman said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet on Jan. 13 in a bid to decide on whether Iran should take part in the conference due to be held on Jan. 22, said U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.

Earlier, U.S officials in Brussels said Iran could participate in the talks if it helps put an end to the Syrian regime’s bombardment of Aleppo and improve humanitarian access to trapped civilians.

“There are also steps that Iran could take to show the international community that they are serious about being a positive player,” a senior State Department official told reporters travelling with Secretary of State John Kerry.

“Those include calling for an end to the bombardment by the Syrian regime of their own people, it includes calling for encouraging humanitarian access.”

One U.S. official said Washington still believed it was ‘less likely than likely’ that Iran would play any role at the Jan. 22 peace conference on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, even on the sidelines.

Another official said Iran and the United States had not discussed the matter directly. All the officials declined to be named.

But Iran has brushed aside the U.S. offer, saying Tehran would only accept offers that respect its “honor.”

“Iran has always announced its readiness to participate without preconditions” in the talks, foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham told the official IRNA news agency.

“(But) Tehran will only accept offers that preserve the honor of the Islamic Republic,” she said without elaborating.

Washington has long opposed Iranian participation in the talks without it signing up to a June 2012 accord calling for a transitional government to replace the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

But Kerry on Sunday opened the door to possible involvement by Tehran in the conference.

“Could they contribute from the sidelines? Are there ways, 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 can happen,” Kerry said.

“We’re happy to have Iran be helpful.”

Tehran is accused of providing military and financial support to Damascus, despite repeatedly maintaining that it has no official military presence in Syria and that its backing takes the form of humanitarian aid.

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