Jan. 20 - An unexpected last-minute UN invitation for Iran to attend a peace conference on Syria throws the talks into doubt. Mana Rabiee reports.
At this Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, expectations for peace talks to end the civil war next door were already low. Then on Monday, the surprise news… … U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon unexpectedly invited Iran, Syria's main foreign backer in the war, to attend the talks. Many here are now feeling even less hopeful. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) SYRIAN REFUGEE, ABU ABDULLAH, SAYING: "The opposition will not agree to this, nor will the Syrian people. We will not support the Geneva conference as long as Iran is participating in this conference." Syria's main opposition group agrees. Iran's presence was one of the most contentious issues looming over the negotiations, dubbed "Geneva 2" and scheduled to begin Wednesday. A spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, which only two days ago reluctantly agreed to attend the talks, gave Iran an ultimatum… …withdraw from the negotiations, or we won't come to the table. SOUNDBITE (English) SYRIAN NATIONAL COALITION POLITICAL COMMITTEE MEMBER, ANAS ABDAH, SAYING: "We would like to ask Secretary General to withdraw the invitation that was forwarded to Iran. Otherwise, we in the national coalition, will not be in a position to attend Geneva 2 conference, and we think and we hold the international community and the United Nations completely responsible for that." Even Washington was caught off guard. The American ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, told the Security Council on Monday that Iran must agree to an earlier Geneva peace agreement, one that calls for a transitional government in Syria, before taking part in the upcoming peace talks. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SAMANTHA POWER, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UN, SAYING: "As of this morning, Iran still has yet to demonstrate its willingness to explicitly and publicly subscribe to the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué. That is a minimum requirement for participation in this peace process." But Russia, which has been lobbying for Iran to attend the talks, says a Geneva conference without Tehran would be pointless. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SERGEI LAVROV, SAYING: "Among the countries also invited are Australia, Mexico, the Republic of Korea, South Africa, Japan, Brazil, India, Indonesia, and many others. So if there is no Iran in this list than I think the peace talks will resemble a hypocrisy." Several Western diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Ban's decision to invite Iran may have been in haste. His advisers are scrambling to prevent the peace conference from collapsing. Adding to the diplomatic confusion, Syrian President Bashar al Assad says he might run for re-election, effectively saying his removal from power is not up for discussion. Talks to end the conflict that's killed at least 130,000 in Syria haven't even begun -- but already, they seem in jeopardy.