Tehran • After Iran was invited to — and then disinvited from — a peace conference on Syria within the space of 24 hours, Iranian officials and commentators said Tuesday that it was the attendees who would be missing out.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had issued the invitation to the meeting, scheduled to begin Wednesday in Geneva, after a phone call Sunday from Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The semiofficial Fars news agency dismissed the quickly withdrawn invitation as “a ridiculous comedy play written by Western scenarists.” A member of Iran’s parliament called it “a plot” to trick Tehran into dropping its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Ban’s invitation had angered Syrian opposition groups and U.S. officials, who quickly reiterated their position that Iran would have to accept the goal of the conference: the establishment of a transitional government in Syria, something the Iranians have long opposed.
Iran supports the Syrian government and Hezbollah — the Lebanese Shiite militia — while bitterly opposing America’s main allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Iran has supported Assad with money, military equipment and advisers and, some rebel leaders say, also with fighters, while allowing Hezbollah to step in and help the Syrian president at a critical juncture in the conflict.
Nonetheless, one expert said that without Iran the upcoming conference would fail.
“The U.S. knows very well that if ever the day comes that Bashar al-Assad needs to go quietly, Iran is the only country capable of achieving that,” said Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, an Iranian journalist who specializes in Arab affairs.