In all, 29 countries are invited to the peace talks, which kick off in Switzerland tomorrow. Conspicuously absent is Iran. Over the weekend, the UN extended a last minute invitation to Iran, but then rescinded it under heavy pressure from the United States.
This was a mistake. Iran is Assad’s most important regional backer, providing funding and arms to the embattled regime. The whole point of peace talks is to bring those with a stake in the conflict around the table to find points of mutual accommodation. It is hard to see how excluding Iran makes a viable peace more likely.
The ostensible reason for the disinviation was because Iran would not formally agree that the basis of the peace talks are a previous agreement from 2012 (called “Geneva I” in diplospeak) which states that a transitional government mutually acceptable to the Assad regime and rebels should guide a political transition in Syria. But that is more a diversion because it is really only the USA that is setting preconditions for the talk. The Russians do not seem to agree.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia said Mr. Ban’s withdrawal of his invitation to Iran was “of course a mistake.” But, signaling that Moscow did not see the affair as a deal-breaker, he said it was “no catastrophe” and Russia would continue to “push for a dialogue between the Syrian parties without any preconditions,” The Associated Press reported.
The prospects for a positive outcome for these talks are distressingly low. Excluding one of the most important regional actors reduces those chances of success even further. Iran, right now, is part of the problem. For the peace talks to be successful, they need to be part of the solution. As of now, they won’t even have a seat at the table.