DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Nations peace envoy for Syria said on Saturday Iran should be invited to planned peace talks in Geneva, Iran’s English-language Press TV reported, in comments sure to rile Gulf Arab states.
Iran has strongly backed President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war while Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states support the Syrian leader’s mainly Sunni rebel foes.
The Saudis are also deeply worried by signs of a tentative reconciliation between its ally the United States and its regional rival Iran.
“We believe that the participation of Iran in the Geneva conference is natural and necessary as well as fruitful, so we are hopeful that this invitation is made,” Lakhdar Brahimi told a news conference in Tehran, according to Press TV, which translated his live remarks into English.
“The secretary-general of the United Nations, I and lots of other people, we are waiting, we want to see Iran take part in the conference,” he said.
Several officials, including Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, have said they expect the Geneva 2 conference to convene on November 23, though the United States, Russia and the United Nations have all said no date has been officially set.
Washington has said it would be more open to Iran taking part in the Geneva conference if it publicly supported a 2012 statement calling for a transitional authority to rule Syria.
Iran has rejected any preconditions for taking part.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking at the same news conference with Brahimi on Saturday, said Iran would take part in the Geneva conference if invited.
“(We would) participate with the aim of coming up with a political solution by providing the possibility for various Syrian sides to negotiate with each other,” Zarif said, according to Press TV.
The preparations for a conference aimed at ending the Syrian conflict, in which more than 100,000 people have died and millions more displaced, coincides with a growing rift between Washington and Saudi Arabia over the war and over Iran’s role.
This week, Syria’s opposition in exile resisted calls from Western and Arab countries to commit to attending the peace talks, saying they would not take part if there was any chance that Assad could cling to power.
Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; editing by Gareth Jones