- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Are Syrians ready to talk? After bitter opening to peace talks, UN takes a day to find out

MONTREUX, Switzerland (AP) - The United Nations is taking a day to see if there is enough common ground between Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and the opposition to talk directly for the first time since the rebellion began in 2011.

Peace talks charting a path out of Syria’s civil war got off to a tense start Wednesday, with Assad’s future at the heart of bitter exchanges on the podium as dozens of the world’s most powerful diplomats looked on. High-level mediating has yielded little so far, but Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. mediator who is meeting separately Thursday with each Syrian delegation, said there are signs they might be willing to bend on humanitarian aid, cease-fires and prisoner exchanges.

At another Swiss venue, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called Thursday for a new election in Syria, saying his nation would respect the results.


“The best solution is to organize a free and fair election in Syria” and once the ballots are cast “we should all accept” the outcome, he said.

Iran, a close ally of Assad‘s, was barred from participating in the Swiss-based talks to end Syria’s civil war

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Heavyweight Iran’s absence hangs over Syria talks following diplomatic snub

MONTREUX, Switzerland (AP) - It’s the regional heavyweight that few want at the table, but without it any attempt to end the Syria war may be futile. Iran’s backing is crucial for President Bashar Assad’s hold on power - and for the Iranians, Syria is key to their aspirations of regional power.

As an international conference on Syria kicked off Wednesday with the participation of more than 40 countries, Iran’s absence hung over the meeting, following a diplomatic debacle that saw the U.N. withdraw a last-minute invitation after an uproar from the United States and the Syrian opposition.

The absence of Damascus’ strongest regional ally stood out even more given that the biggest supporters of the opposition were all present: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

The question of Iran’s participation underlines how the international powers that have lined up behind either Assad or the rebels trying to topple him are as crucial to a solution as Syria’s warring parties themselves.

Like any of the regional players, Iran can be a spoiler for a resolution it opposes or can be a force for pressuring its side to make concessions.

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