Iran needs to show that it can play a positive role in efforts to end the Syrian civil war if it wants to be included in a peace conference this month, two U.S. officials said.
Iran could demonstrate that it wants to be helpful through actions such as pressing the Syrian government to end its bombardment of Aleppo and to facilitate humanitarian aid deliveries to rebel-controlled areas, the officials told reporters traveling with Secretary of State John Kerry today as he returned from a Mideast trip.
Their comments followed remarks by Kerry yesterday suggesting Iran could attend a “Geneva II” peace conference, scheduled for Jan. 22, in a limited capacity, even though the Islamic Republic hasn’t accepted the 2012 communique underlying the long-delayed talks.
The officials, who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive diplomacy, said it remains unlikely that Iran will be included in the peace talks in any role.
The U.S. has criticized Iran for propping up the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with cash and weapons. Kerry indicated at a news conference in Jerusalem yesterday that it would be up to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to decide on an Iranian role in the talks in Switzerland.
“Now, could they contribute from the sidelines?” Kerry said. “It may be that that could happen, but that has to be determined by the secretary general and it has to be determined by Iranian intentions themselves.”
While Iran wasn’t included in a list of nations invited to the talks by Ban today, its possible participation will be discussed by Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a meeting on Jan. 13, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York.
The communique produced in Geneva in 2012 calls for a transition government “by mutual consent,” which the U.S. and the Syrian opposition interpret as meaning it would exclude Assad. The Syrian government and its ally Russia dispute that interpretation. The U.S. has previously opposed Iran’s participation in the talks unless it accepts the agreement, which would essentially mean abandoning its ally Assad.
Iran rejected Kerry’s conditions for a role in the talks.
“In order to take part in the Geneva II conference, the Islamic Republic of Iran will not accept any proposal which does not respect its dignity,” said Marzieh Afkham, a spokeswoman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, according to PressTV.
The comments by the two U.S. officials were intended to clarify the U.S. position after Kerry’s remarks. Even accepting the Geneva communique wouldn’t automatically lead to Iran’s invitation because other nations oppose its involvement, they said. Shiite Iran is seen by the predominantly Sunni Syrian rebels and their Sunni allies, including the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, as both a regional and sectarian enemy.
Ban previously has said he favors including Iran in the talks as an important regional power. The talks are to be convened under UN authority by Ban and his special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Russia has backed Iran’s participation.