Syria crisis: 'No deal' on Iran presence at peace talks

UN's Lakhdar Brahimi: "The United States are still not convinced that Iran's participation is the right thing to do"

International negotiators have failed to agree on whether to invite Iran to peace talks over the Syrian conflict, the UN-Arab League envoy on Syria said.

Lakhdar Brahimi said the US remained unconvinced that Iran's participation "would be the right thing to do".

He said some 26 nations had been asked to join the conference, which is due to be held in Switzerland in January.

The US, UN and Russia have been struggling for months to get the talks, known as Geneva II, off the ground.

The conference aims to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid, end the fighting and outline a political transition for Syria.

Obstacles remain

Mr Brahimi met American and Russian delegations in the Swiss city of Geneva to finalise the list of nations partaking in the planned peace talks on 22 January.

"On Iran, we haven't agreed yet," he told reporters on Friday. "It's no secret that we in the United Nations welcome the participation of Iran, but our partners in the United States are still not convinced."

America opposes Iran's presence, because of Teheran's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Mr Brahimi stressed he would continue to work with Iranian officials if they were not officially invited.

"The Iranian authorities have told us that they'd like to come to Geneva, but if it's not possible, it's not the end of the world - they support this process and they will work with us," he said.

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There's deep frustration in the aid community that a world which came together to deal with Syria's chemical weapons arsenal cannot do the same when it comes to tackling a deepening humanitarian crisis”

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Mr Brahimi announced that Qatar and Saudi Arabia would join Geneva II.

The US and Russia will be joined by the other three permanent members of the UN Security Council - Britain, China and France.

Meanwhile, Russia said Syria would be represented by Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.

The Syrian government previously said it would attend Geneva II in principle, but would accept no preconditions and refuses to negotiate with "terrorists", its term for almost all its political and military opponents.

The opposition has said any political solution to the crisis must include the removal of Mr Assad.

This latest delay in finalising the participants does not bode well for the peace talks themselves, the BBC's Imogen Foulkes, in Geneva, reports.

Our correspondent says many obstacles remain - chief among them continued disagreement among opposition forces, some of whom are already saying they will not recognise any agreement the talks may come to.

The UN estimates that more than two million people have fled Syria since the unrest began in March 2011 resulting in a humanitarian crisis.

Most have sought refuge in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

More than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed since the conflict began.

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