TEHRAN – Iran has criticized the UN secretary general’s decision to withdraw his invitation to Tehran to attend the Syria conference, which is scheduled to open today (January 22).
“It is regrettable that Ban Ki-moon withdrew his invitation under pressure… what is more unfortunate is the lack of courage to announce the reason behind this withdrawal,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Tuesday.
“I regard this behavior as beneath the UN secretary general’s dignity,” Zarif added.
Ban Ki-moon rescinded his invitation late on Monday, under intense U.S. pressure, after Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group threatened to boycott the long-awaited conference.
After Ban withdrew the invitation, the opposition Syrian National Coalition said it would attend the talks aimed at finding a solution to the Syria crisis, which has dragged on for nearly three years.
That cleared the way for the conference to open on Wednesday as planned in the Swiss resort city of Montreux, with high-ranking delegations from the United States, Russia, and close to 40 other countries attending. Face-to-face negotiations between the Syrian government and its opponents -- the first since the crisis began -- are to start on Friday in Geneva, according to AP.
Zarif stated that he had clearly told Ban Ki-moon that Iran would play a positive and constructive role but would not accept any preconditions for its participation in the talks.
“We hope that Ban can explain the main reasons behind his move,” he added.
“Obviously, the United States and certain groups who have the Syrian people’s blood on their hands, have put pressure on him, and Mr. Ban Ki-moon has been compelled to make this move,” he said.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said, “It is regrettable that Mr. Secretary General has done this under pressure, and we hope he can explain his main reasons.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ban’s decision to rescind Iran’s invitation was a mistake, but Moscow would try to make the negotiations work.
“There is no catastrophe, we will push for a dialogue between the Syrian parties without any preconditions,” Lavrov said at a press conference, according to AP.
At the same time, Lavrov took a jab at Ban, saying his decision on Iran “hasn’t helped strengthen the UN authority,” and that recalling the offer looked “unseemly.”
Lavrov reaffirmed Russia’s stance that the presence of Iran was essential for the success of the talks.
He stated that the Syrian National Coalition, the political opposition body, which threatened to boycott the conference, is not acting in line with the Geneva communiqué, and neither are its foreign sponsors, according to RT.
“I only regret that this story did not make the United Nations’ reputation any better,” Lavrov said.
Washington welcomed the about-face. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “We are hopeful that, in the wake of today's announcement, all parties can now return to focus on the task at hand, which is bringing an end to the suffering of the Syrian people and beginning a process toward a long overdue political transition.”
The U.S. had also insisted that Iran's invitation be rescinded unless Tehran made “explicit and public support for the full implementation of the Geneva communiqué including the establishment of a transitional governing body by mutual consent with full executive authorities,” the State Department said in an earlier statement.
Tehran refused to accept any such preconditions.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran appreciates the efforts of the UN secretary general and his special envoy, Mr. Brahimi, in finding a political solution for the Syrian crisis,” Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Khazaee, said in a statement on Monday. “However, the Islamic Republic of Iran does not accept any preconditions for its participation” in the conference.