Contrary to Turkey and Russia, Iran rules out US participation in Astana talks

MUSTAFA KIRIKÇIOĞLU @MKirikcioglu
ISTANBUL
Published
Foreign ministers, Sergei Lavrov (C) of Russia, Mevlut Cavusoglu (R) of Turkey and Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, leave after a news conference in Moscow, Russia, December 20, 2016.
Foreign ministers, Sergei Lavrov (C) of Russia, Mevlut Cavusoglu (R) of Turkey and Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, leave after a news conference in Moscow, Russia, December 20, 2016.

Iranian officials said they oppose U.S. attendance at the Syrian peace talks, despite Russia and Turkey's statements to the contrary earlier this week. The situation reveals Tehran's disagreements with Moscow and Ankara regarding the peace process as well as gives hints about Iran's possible conflict with the Trump administration

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif reportedly said Wednesday that Iran is vehemently opposed to the United States joining the Syrian peace talks in Kazakhstan next week. Iran's statement goes against the position of Russia and Turkey, the other two organizers of the talks, who both said earlier this week that Donald Trump's new U.S. administration should be represented at the negotiations. "We are hostile to their presence and we have not invited them," Foreign Minister Zarif said late Tuesday, according to the Tasnim news agency.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that he thought it was right to invite the incoming U.S. administration to the talks, adding that he hoped they would accept the invitation, welcoming U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's desire to make fighting international terrorism a priority. Lavrov also told reporters he hoped Russia and the U.S. could cooperate more effectively on Syria than was possible with the Obama administration.

Also, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said yesterday that Ankara and Moscow agreed on U.S. participation in the Syrian talks in Astana.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, which oversees international coordination on the Syrian war, confirmed yesterday that Iran had refused to invite the U.S.

"There is no reason for the United States to participate in the organizing of political initiatives in the Syrian crisis and it is out of the question that they should have a role in the Astana negotiations," he said, according to the official IRNA news agency.

Even though relations between the U.S. and Iran, much strained for more than 30 years following the Iranian revolution in 1979, vastly improved with the Obama administration and under the deal signed in July 2015, world powers agreed to lift international sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on the country's nuclear program. However, the U.S.'s president-elect Donald Trump's frequent denunciation and criticism to the nuclear deal will likely to cause hostility between two countries. Last week, Trump said that "I'm not happy with the Iran deal, I think it's one of the worst deals ever made." But he declined to say whether he intended to "renegotiate" the deal, as he asserted regularly during the presidential campaign.

Following the cease-fire deal that was brokered by Turkey and Russia before New Year's Eve, the opposition and the regime were set to attend peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan on Jan. 23. Although the Assad regime has continued to shell and bomb some opposition-held areas where there is no terrorist activity, Syrian rebel groups have decided to attend the peace talks to press for proper implementation of what has been a widely violated cease-fire.

While Moscow and Tahran find common ground in the Syrian civil war as diplomatic and military supporters of the Assad regime, disagreements have become apparent especially since cease-fire agreement.

On early January, Iran-backed Hezbollah militants allegedly blocked a Russian military delegation consisting of four military officers from entering the besieged area of Wadi Barada on the outskirts of Damascus. The delegation was invited by local residents to check the status of military activities in the area in regard to the implementation of the recent Turkish-Russian brokered cease-fire.

Also, while Iran insisting that Hezbollah militiamen and Iran-backed other paramilitary groups stay in Syria despite the cease-fire agreement, Russia has deployed military police servicemen from its Republic of Chechnya to Syria, allegedly a move for power balancing against Iran-backed militias within regime-controlled areas.

Meanwhile, the Assad regime has ruled out the participation of Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the Astana talks.

"Once Qatar and Saudi Arabia halt their support for terrorism we will discuss the matter of their participation in the talks," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad was quoted on yesterday as saying by the Lebanon-based TV station Al-Mayadeen.

On Monday, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said that the country is totally ready to host the upcoming peace talks on the Syria crisis on Jan. 23. "The level of the meeting depends on who will preside on the committees that are expected to come from Russia and Turkey. We know that Iranian representatives also want to attend this meeting."

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