BEIRUT (AP) — The United Nations on Sunday invited Iran to attend an international meeting of foreign ministers in the Swiss city of Montreux ahead of the first direct peace talks between the warring Syrian sides in the nearly three-year conflict.
But it was not clear how Syria's main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, would react to the invitation to Iran. he Coalition, under huge pressure from its Western and Arab supporters, had agreed late Saturday to attend the Geneva peace talks.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told reporters at U.N. headquarters that he had issued the invitation to Iran after lengthy talks in recent days with Iranian Foreign Minister Javid Zarif.
Ban said that Zarif had assured him that Iran "understands that the basis of the talks" is the full implementation of the road map adopted by the U.S., Russia and other major powers in Geneva in June 2012. That plan called for the creation of a transitional Syrian government with full executive powers.
"Foreign Minister Zarif and I agree that the goal of the negotiations is to establish, by mutual consent, a transitional governing body with full executive powers," Ban said. "It was on that basis that Foreign Minister Zarif pledged that Iran would play a positive and constructive role in Montreux."
The U.S. State Department said it viewed Ban's invitation to Iran "as conditioned on Iran's explicit and public support for the full implementation of the (June 2012) Geneva communique including the establishment of a transitional governing body.".
"If Iran does not fully and publicly accept the Geneva communique, the invitation must be rescinded," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
The Montreux meeting precedes peace talks scheduled to begin Friday between Syrian President Bashar Assad's delegation and Syrian opposition groups at the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva. The meeting will be moderated by the U.N.-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.
Invitations to the one-day meeting of foreign ministers at a Montreux hotel had been subject to approval by the initiating states, Russia and the United States, but the two countries had been at an impasse over whether Iran, Assad's strongest ally, should attend. Invitations have now gone out to about 40 countries.
In Syria, the head of an al-Qaida-linked group in Syria reached out to rival rebel groups who have been engaged in a bloody battle with his fighters this month, calling for the two sides to end their infighting and instead unite against the government and its allies.
Rebel-on-rebel infighting between the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and an array or ultraconservative and more moderate rebel factions has killed more than 1,000 people across opposition-held northern Syria since it began in early January. The clashes are the most serious among the opponents of President Bashar Assad in Syria's nearly three-year civil war.
In a new 16-minute audio message posted online Sunday, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi accused the other rebel brigades of stabbing his group in the back, and said the infighting only benefits the government.