France and US shun Iran on Syria peace talks

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It is unclear when or where they will happen, but one thing is sure – neither France nor the US want Iran at the next Syria peace talks.

Diplomats expect a bit more clarity after a preparatory meeting by Russian and US envoys in Geneva on 25 June.

The Syria talks were originally scheduled for this month.

But a diplomatic source in Geneva said “early September” is now the most likely date.

One reason for the delay is that rebel factions cannot agree who to send. Another one is military gains by Syrian forces, which are making the regime less keen to negotiate.

July is out because the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts on 9 July.

But another big question is whether to invite Iran.

The Islamic republic is Syria’s most powerful ally in the region. It has sent troops to fight on its side and it is the paymaster of Hezbollah, a Lebanese militia whose guerrillas are also fighting for the Syrian regime.

When asked by EUobserver if Iran should be at the peace talks, Robert Baer, a US security expert and former CIA officer, said simply: “Got to include Iran.”

France, a former colonial power in Syria, sent a senior official to Tehran on 27 May.

But its foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, told EU peers at a behind-closed-doors meeting in Brussels later the same day that: “Iran should not participate, because they really don’t want a solution.”

An EU diplomat shed light on Fabius’ thinking.

“The French believe that if Iran goes they will link Syria to the nuclear dossier. They will ask for concessions in the nuclear talks in return for any positive steps on Syria,” the contact said, referring to long-term Western efforts to stop Iran from weaponising uranium.

The British foreign office told EUobserver on Friday (14 June) it is still making up its mind on Iran’s participation.

But the US also gave a blunt No.

“Whoever attends the conference on Syria must be opposed to further militarisation of the conflict,” a US state department official told this website.

“Iran has played a destructive role in this crisis by sending its Quds force into Syria and by directly supporting the Assad regime’s brutality against the Syrian people. Is this compatible with ‘opposition to further militarisation’? How can it play a positive role?” the official added, referring to Iran’s elite Quds regiment and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Britain and France said last month they will ship arms to rebels if the peace talks fail.

The US on Thursday upped the ante by saying it will intervene already.

Ben Rhodes, the White House’s deputy security advisor, told press that Syria last year killed up to 150 people using sarin gas on “a small scale” but “multiple times.”

He added: “The President has made a decision about providing more support to the opposition … that includes military support.”

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton noted: “These developments can only reinforce the importance of a political solution.”

But for its part, Russia believes it is the US, not Iran, which has no genuine interest in diplomacy.

Alexei Pushkov, the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs chief, Tweeted on Friday that US intelligence on sarin is a “fabrication” just like false intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the US invaded in 2003.

“What would be al-Assad’s interest in using small quantities of sarin against the rebels? Why? To give a pretext for foreign intervention? It doesn’t make sense,” Pushkov wrote.

 

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