Offer to Iran on Syria peace talks withdrawn

Ban Ki-moon says Iran cannot attend talks as it does not accept transition deal

Internally displaced Syrians in the Atma camp near the border with Turkey say they do not expect the Geneva 2 conference to improve their situation. Video: Reuters


UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon last night withdrew an offer for Iran to attend Syria peace negotiations – due to begin in Montreux tomorrow – after Tehran declared it does not support the June 2012 political transition deal that is the basis for the talks.

“He [Ban] continues to urge Iran to join the global consensus behind the Geneva communique,” Mr Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky said. “Given that it has chosen to remain outside that basic understanding, [Ban] has decided that the one-day Montreux gathering will proceed without Iran’s participation.”

Mr Ban said earlier that Iran’s public statement that it did not support the 2012 Geneva deal calling for a transitional government for Syria was “not consistent” with assurances he had been given by Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Mr Ban’s invitation to Iran – a supporter of Syria’s Assad regime – yesterday drew criticism from the Syrian opposition, which threatened to withdraw from the talks. It also provoked the ire of the US, which insists that Iran’s involvement is conditional on the country accepting the terms of the first Geneva conference.

Ease sanctions
The European Union yesterday agreed to ease sanctions on Iran, following confirmation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Tehran has begun to curb its nuclear enrichment.

A much-awaited report by the IAEA yesterday confirmed that Iran had ceased the enrichment of uranium above 5 per cent purity and had begun disconnecting centrifuges used for enrichment at the Nantaz plant, in line with the interim agreement signed by Iran and the West in November. The move paved the way for an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels yesterday to lift a range of sanctions for six months.

The changes, which came into force yesterday, include the lifting of the current ban on the provision of insurance and transport services in relation to Iranian crude oil sold to current customers, as well as trade of gold, precious metals and petrochemicals. Restrictions on money transfers will also be eased.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore welcomed the development as “an important first step”, but added: “I want now to see the Iranian government continue to engage constructively with a view to arriving at a more permanent deal by the time this interim agreement expires in six months.”

Long-term agreement
His sentiment was echoed by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who said momentum should not be lost in reaching a more long-term agreement with Iran.

Separately, the EU agreed to send a military mission to the Central African Republic, though stopped short of deploying the EU’s emergency response “battle group” formation. Instead, countries will choose whether to participate in the mission, with Ireland, the UK and Germany among the countries unlikely to participate.

Speaking in Brussels yesterday, Mr Gilmore said that while Ireland supported the intervention in the African country, Ireland is unlikely to contribute directly to the mission.

“I think it is understood among other countries that we are already very heavily committed in our overseas commitments by our defence forces,” he said.

Up to 1,000 troops are expected to join the 1600-strong French mission. The force will be initially stationed around the airport in the capital Bangui, with troops expected to begin arriving next month. – (Additional reporting Reuters)

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