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Media: Iran, Saudi Arabia to take part in Geneva II

December 13, 2013, 0:02 UTC+3 LONDON
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LONDON, December 12, 23:32 /ITAR-TASS/. Iran and Saudi Arabia will take part in the international conference on Syria known as Geneva II, the newspaper Daily Star said on Thursday, December 12.

It said 32 countries had been invited to the conference but this list might be enlarged in the next several days.

“At the moment there are 32 countries invited, but that number may increase because everyone wants to come,” the newspaper quoted an unnamed Arab diplomat as saying. “In addition to the five permanent members of the Security Council [the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China], there are the neighbouring countries, as well as Saudi Arabia and Iran, and also Germany and Italy and others.”

“Each delegation will be composed of nine members and both the regime and the opposition should present their lists to the U.N. by December 27, but it is not certain they will respect this date,” the Arab diplomat said.

The list of conference participants has not been approved yet, U.N. Spokesperson Martin Nesirky said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the preparation of a trilateral meeting in Geneva December 20, where the sides plan to resolve the last remaining questions regarding the conference.

Lavrov said earlier that Iran could have positive influence on the situation in Syria.

“We are worried about the situation in Syria and around it,” the minister said. “We call for an end to the bloodshed and believe that Syrians themselves should agree on the future of their country without external interference.”

He believes, however, that external players can help the peace process in Syria. “Iran should be included in this circle. I believe it would be fundamentally important to invite Iran to Geneva II [conference on Syria],” Lavrov said.

“For the Geneva conference to be a success, it should be attended by all those who can influence the situation and who already influence it. It is important to bring all of them together in order to create a team of like-minded people so that the influence on the developments in Syria that has been exerted by many people and many countries were used to stop the bloodshed,” the minister said.

“Naturally, Iran is among those who can have positive influence on the developments in Syria... only Syrians themselves can determine the fate of their country, while external players should motivate them to do so, not try to impose some unviable schemes, not to interfere in the Syrian’s dialogue but to encourage them to continue the talks until they come to agreement,” Lavrov said.

“This is fully consistent with the main principle of the Geneva Communique of June 30, 2012, specifically that the decision on future life in Syria should be made by the government and all opposition groups by mutual consent,” he noted. “This is the key to making the future decision long-lasting and durable and to avoiding another abortive attempt to impose something. It is fundamentally important that Geneva II is being convened to implement the Geneva Communique and realise its central principle, which is consensus among the Syrians.”

“In my contacts with Western colleagues, with colleagues from Middle East and North African countries I begin to feel their growing understanding of how important it is to invite all key players, including Iran [to Geneva II]. This position has been supported by [Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis] Lakhdar Brahimi and [U.N. Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon,” Lavrov said.

“I do hope that those to be invited to Geneva II, and this is to be done before the end of the year, will by all means include the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the minister said.

Lavrov believes that Iran, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia should take part in Geneva II as the most influential Muslim countries. “It has been agreed that the talks will be conducted by the Syrians themselves. They will be helped only by Special Envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi. But the conference, and everyone agrees with this, should be opened in the presence of ‘external players’ which influence the situation one way or another or bear responsibility for maintaining peace and security,” he said.

The minister noted that the obvious candidates were those who drafted the Geneva Communique and participated in the conference in Geneva on June 30, 2012: the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the League of Arab States, the European Union, and Turkey.

“We want this circle to be enlarged because last year’s conference was not attended by Iran and Saudi Arabia, and these are two countries that are associated with the main sponsors of different warring factions in Syria,” Lavrov said.

He thinks that the presence of these countries at the conference is important because Iran is perceived as the leader of Shi’ism in Islam, and Saudi Arabia as the leader of Sunnis. “It is fundamentally important to have all branches of Islam represented because the Syrian crisis, just like many other crises in the Middle East, has a clearly pronounced Islamic dimension,” the minister said.

He warned against attempts to “ignore the fact that the division within Islam between the Sunnis and Shiites poses an enormous threat to security not only in this region but far beyond it.”

Lavrov also stressed the importance of inviting Indonesia to the conference, which is the world’s largest Muslim country and which “wants to take part in the conference being aware of responsibility for the situation in the Islamic world.”

“We should also invite the leaders of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, which brings together all Muslims without exception and which is called upon to promote common approaches allowing Islamic countries to play an equal role in solving international problems without pandering to divisions within the Islamic world,” the Russian foreign minister said.

The goal of Geneva II would be to achieve a political solution to the conflict through a comprehensive agreement between the Government and the opposition for the full implementation of the Geneva communique, adopted after the first international meeting on the issue on June 30, 2012.

The communique lays out key steps in a process to end the violence. Among others, it calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body, with full executive powers and made up by members of the present Government and the opposition and other groups, as part of agreed principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led political transition.

More than 100,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since March 2011 when opposition protesters first sought the ouster of the Assad Government, and a further 6.5 million people have been displaced, the U.N. said.

Thirty countries are listed as external participants of Geneva II. It is not clear yet whether or not Iran will be invited, but this question will be decided on December 20. Russia insists Iranian officials should participate in Geneva II, but the United States objects.

Brahimi said in late November that there was still no clarity about the participation of Iran and Saudi Arabia in the conference to be held on January 22, 2014.

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