UNITED NATIONS— After a brief diplomatic firestorm, the United Nations announced Monday that Iran will not be attending an international peace conference on Syria in Switzerland later this week.
It began with a rare Sunday night news conference. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that after receiving certain verbal assurances from Iranian officials, he had invited them to attend the first day of a peace conference to be held in the Swiss town of Montreux, in which 40 other countries also will be participating.
But that announcement led to a backlash Monday from Washington, which said the invitation must be withdrawn unless Iran fully endorses the establishment of a transitional government for Syria with full executive powers upon mutual consent - a principle enshrined in what is known as the Geneva Communiqué from an earlier peace conference in 2012.
The Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-backed opposition group, also said Iran should not attend and it threatened to boycott the talks.
For its part, an expected statement of support from Tehran for the Geneva Communiqué was not forthcoming Monday.
This led to a flurry of diplomatic activity at the United Nations, with Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky telling reporters the U.N. chief was “urgently considering his options.”
A few hours later, Nesirky told reporters Iran would not be attending the one-day meeting in Montreux, ahead of the two-party Syrian talks in Geneva.
“The Secretary-General is deeply disappointed by Iranian public statements today that are not at all consistent with that stated commitment. He continues to urge Iran to join the global consensus behind the Geneva Communiqué. Given that it has chosen to remain outside that basic understanding, he has decided that the one-day Montreux gathering will proceed without Iran’s participation," said Nesirky.
Just before the U.N. announcement, the spokesman for Iranian U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Khazaee circulated a statement to reporters saying, “Iran does not accept any preconditions for its participation” in the Geneva conference. The statement said that if Tehran’s participation is conditioned on accepting the Geneva Communiqué, it would not participate.
Expectations for success are already low ahead of the Geneva talks, and Monday’s diplomatic tempest did nothing to raise them.