U.N. sending invitations to Switzerland peace talks on Syria

UNITED NATIONS Mon Jan 6, 2014 1:58pm EST

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attends the High-level Conference on the Central Emergency Response Fund at the U.N. headquarters in New York, December 13, 2013. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attends the High-level Conference on the Central Emergency Response Fund at the U.N. headquarters in New York, December 13, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is sending out invitations on Monday to potential participants in Syrian peace talks scheduled to take place in Switzerland this month, the U.N. press office said.

The U.N. statement said the list of invitees was determined at a December 20 meeting between Russia, the United States and the United Nations. The key players in the talks to try to end Syria's civil war are President Bashar al-Assad's government and opposition rebels that have been fighting for nearly three years to oust him.

Earlier on Monday U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said that there had been no agreement on whether to invite Iran though he said Ban supports the idea of Iran's participation and hopes agreement can be reached on that issue. Like Russia, Iran is a staunch supporter of Assad's government.

"It (the conference) aims to bring two broadly representative and credible delegations of the Syrian Government and opposition to a negotiating table in order to end the conflict and launch a political transition," the U.N. statement said.

"The Secretary-General views the conference as a unique opportunity for ending the violence and ensuring that peace can be restored," the statement added. "At the core of this effort is the establishment of a transitional governing body based on mutual consent."

Iran has appeared to rule out participation in Syrian peace talks scheduled to begin in Montreux, Switzerland on January 22, dismissing a U.S. suggestion that it could be involved "from the sidelines" as not respecting its dignity.

Haq said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet on January 13, and voiced the hope they can agree on Iran's participation. He said active support of regional powers in a political solution is critical.

Haq also said the opposition has not yet named members of its delegation for the conference. He said the United Nations urges the Syrian opposition to announce the composition of their "broadly representative" delegation as soon as possible.

Western and Gulf Arab governments oppose the idea of including Iran in the Syria peace conference because it has refused to embrace the idea of creating a transitional government that could replace Assad.

The idea of a political transition for Syria was agreed in principle in June 2012 at a conference in Geneva.

But there has been disagreement over what the outcome of the June 2012 conference meant. Western and Gulf Arab powers want Assad to step aside while Moscow says a decision on who should govern must be made by the Syrians themselves, not by outsiders.

More than 100,000 people have been killed and millions forced to flee by Syria's civil war, which began as an uprising against Assad's government in March 2011.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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