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(CNN) — Russia’s top diplomat chided the United Nations on Tuesday for rescinding an invitation to Iran to participate in talks aimed at ending the Syrian civil war, a move that raised questions about whether any agreement could be reached at the peace conference.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov put the blame squarely on U.N. members calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, saying those nations had forced the United Nations to un-invite Iran — a leading Syrian ally — to the talks in Switzerland.

Lavrov called it a mistake, but “not a catastrophe,” adding that Russia and others will push for balanced talks between those representing al-Assad and the rebels.

He pointed out that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, among others, recognized publicly that Iran is an important player in resolving the Syrian conflict.

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The topic was key in one-on-one talks between Lavrov and Kerry on Tuesday. The two met behind closed doors at the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace on the shores of Lake Geneva.

That meeting was followed by another that included Kerry, Lavrov, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.N. special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi. They all agreed on the significance of having representatives of the regime and the rebels at the negotiating table, according to a senior State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The four also agreed on the importance of “beginning the long process of negotiating a transitional governing body by mutual consent,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

Kerry also briefly joined a meeting between senior U.S. officials and representatives of the Syrian opposition coalition, according to the official.

The peace talks also were front and center in a telephone call between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday. The two discussed preparations for the talks, according to a statement released by the White House.

A preliminary international session is scheduled for Wednesday in Montreux, with talks between the Syrian government and opposition delegations slated to begin Friday in Geneva.

According to breaking news banners on Syrian state-run television, the plane transporting the Syrian government delegation to the peace talks was prevented from refueling at Athens International Airport in Greece after landing there Tuesday, despite having the necessary permits.

Later, state TV said the government’s delegation had landed in Geneva.

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‘Lack of courage’

The last-minute invitation to Iran had threatened to derail the talks after the main Syrian opposition group and the United States opposed it.

Louay Safi, a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, said Iran’s attendance would have been “a deal breaker.” He told CNN that Ban “did the right thing” by withdrawing Iran’s invitation.

Iran, meanwhile, had already announced that it wouldn’t be attending the peace conference because it would not tolerate any preconditions for joining the talks — including acceptance of the framework laid out in a previous conference which foresees a transitional government.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that the talks cannot be taken seriously without Iran.

“The thing that has happened with the withdrawal of the invitation to Iran, I believe that’s unacceptable,” Medvedev said in an exclusive interview to air Wednesday on CNN’s Amanpour. “Can someone think the Syrian problem can be seriously discussed without the Iranian factor and their account of it?”

Lavrov said Monday that Iran’s absence from the list of countries invited to the talks would make the conference “resemble something profane,” according to Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency. Moscow has been a longstanding ally of the Syrian government.

And Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iran’s state-run Fars News agency that he considered the situation to be unworthy of Ban.

“What disappoints us most is the lack of courage to state the real reason for the withdrawal of the invitation,” he is quoted as saying, adding that the United Nations laid the fault at the door of Iranian officials.

“It is obvious that the United States and certain other groups who have the blood of the Syrian people on their hands have put pressure on Mr. Ban Ki-moon and forced him into doing this, and he had to justify his action.”

Zarif said Ban had consulted with him several times and that Iran had made clear it would not accept any preconditions for the talks, and that it would “consider any statement to the contrary by the Secretary-General as being false.”

Iran out of peace conference on Syria

‘Deeply disappointed’

Ban arrived in Switzerland on Tuesday.

His spokesman, Martin Nesirky, told reporters Monday that Ban, who issued the invitation Sunday, believed he had Iran’s assurance that it accepted the original Geneva declaration.

“The secretary-general is deeply disappointed by Iranian public statements today that are not at all consistent with that stated commitment,” Nesirky said. The declaration “remains the internationally agreed framework for ending the crisis,” he said — and without Iran’s acceptance of it, this week’s conference “will proceed without Iran’s participation,” he added.

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The goal of the talks is to set up a transitional government to help end the violence that has wracked the country.

The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since the revolt against al-Assad’s government began in 2011. The first round of peace talks — known as the Geneva I communiqué — calls for a transitional government and eventual free elections as part of a political settlement to end the war.

Al-Assad has called for the conference to include a focus on “fighting terrorism” in Syria. Throughout the civil war, Syria has blamed violence on “terrorists.”

In a meeting with Syria’s delegates to the talks, al-Assad directed them to preserve their nation’s sovereignty by “preventing and rejecting any foreign interference no matter its form and context,” Syria’s state-run news agency, SANA, reported Monday.

Al-Assad also said no political solution could be reached without the agreement of the Syrian people and “first and foremost the complete cessation of terrorism” and its support by other countries, the news agency said.

Syrian opposition votes to attend Geneva 2 peace talks

Outside backing

Western intelligence officials believe Iran has provided fighters, intelligence and communications to support al-Assad.

In addition, fighters from the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah have seen combat in Syria on the side of the government.

Most outside support for rebel forces has come from the Persian Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

U.S. aid has been limited largely to nonlethal assistance such as communications gear and medical equipment, and American officials have struggled with how to back opposition groups without providing weapons to those linked to Islamic militants.

How Syria talks were derailed before they started

UN invites Iran to Syria peace talks

Posted by Nuttapon_S On January - 20 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has invited Iran to take part in preliminary Syrian peace talks this week in Switzerland, an offer Tehran has accepted.

Mr Ban said he had received assurances that Iran would play a positive role in securing a transitional government.

But Syria’s main opposition group said it would withdraw from the talks unless Mr Ban retracted the offer to Iran.

And the US said the offer must be conditional on Iran’s support for the 2012 deal on Syria’s transition.

The Syria peace conference has been more than a year in the making and now it is in disarray before it’s even started, reports the BBC’s Kim Ghattas.

The UN move appeared to take American officials by surprise, she adds.

Preliminary talks are due to open in Montreux on Wednesday and then continue in Geneva two days later.

Syria’s government earlier agreed to attend the meeting.

The three-year conflict in Syria has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people.

An estimated two million people have fled the country and some 6.5 million have been internally displaced.

US reservations

On Sunday, UN Secretary General Ban said that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had pledged that Tehran would play “a positive and constructive” role in Montreux.

“As I have said repeatedly, I believe strongly that Iran needs to be part of the solution to the Syrian crisis,” he added.

And Mr Ban stressed: “Let me be clear – Montreux is not a venue for negotiations. The Syrian parties themselves will begin that process in Geneva on 24 January.”

Shortly afterwards, Iran said it accepted the invitation. Tehran had earlier insisted it wanted to take part but without preconditions.

There had been a dispute over whether Iran, a crucial ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, should be taking part in the talks.

The UN and Russia had advocated a role for Tehran, but the US had reservations because of its failure to endorse the 2012 Geneva communique, detailing Syria’s political transition process.

Washington is also concerned about Iran’s deployment of military personnel in Syria, and its support of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, which had sent fighters to bolster Mr Assad’s forces.

Responding to Mr Ban’s invitation, Syria’s main political opposition group, the National Coalition, threatened to withdraw from the Geneva talks.

In a tweet, SNC spokesman Louay Safi wrote: “The Syrian Coalition announces that they will withdraw their attendance in G2 unless Ban Ki-moon retracts Iran’s invitation.”

In a statement, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington viewed Mr Ban’s invitation “as conditioned on Iran’s explicit and public support for the full implementation of the Geneva communique including the establishment of a transitional governing body by mutual consent with full executive authorities.

“This is something Iran has never done publicly and something we have long made clear is required,” Ms Psaki added.

“We also remain deeply concerned about Iran’s contributions to the Assad regime’s brutal campaign against its own people, which has contributed to the growth of extremism and instability in the region.

“If Iran does not fully and publicly accept the Geneva communiqué, the invitation must be rescinded.”

‘Courageous vote’

Conflict damage in Aleppo, Syria. Photo: 18 January 2014
Syria has been devastated by the conflict which began in March 2011

The National Coalition had only agreed to attend the talks two days ago.

The coalition’s leader, Ahmad Jarba, said on Saturday that the National Coalition was going to the talks “without any bargain regarding the principles of the revolution and we will not be cheated by Assad’s regime”.

“The negotiating table for us is a track toward achieving the demands of the revolution – at the top of them, removing the butcher from power,” he added.

US Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the decision.

“This is a courageous vote in the interests of all the Syrian people who have suffered so horribly under the brutality of the Assad regime and a civil war without end,” he said in a statement.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague also praised the National Coalition’s “difficult decision”, adding: “As I have said many times, any mutually agreed settlement means that Assad can play no role in Syria’s future.”

Syrian opposition figures had earlier expressed reluctance to go to Switzerland unless President Assad was excluded from any future transitional government.

Damascus says there cannot be any pre-conditions for the talks.

UN: CAR violence displaces nearly one million

Posted by Nuttapon_S On January - 4 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Fierce fighting has also restricted aid access to makeshift camp at the international airport, refugee agency says.

Violence in the Central African Republic has uprooted nearly a million people – a fifth of the population – and hampered aid efforts in the capital Bangui, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).

A flare-up in violence between Muslim fighters and Christian militias has displaced more than 200,000 people in the past few weeks alone, leaving a total of 935,000 homeless, UNHCR said on Friday.

The number of people sheltering at a makeshift camp at the international airport has doubled in the past week to 100,000, but while the site lacks proper access to food and water, fierce fighting in nearby neighbourhoods has restricted aid access.

“Insecurity and chaos around the site… prevents us from doing any distribution,” UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told a news conference in Geneva.

“It’s a horrible situation. We have heard a lot about revenge attacks happening inside health centres, where armed elements have gone and attacked patients.”

A Muslim rebel group, the Seleka, unleashed a wave of killing and looting after seizing power in March. The deployment of 1,600 French and nearly 4,000 African Union peacekeepers has done little to contain the tit-for-tat violence between religious communities.

Cutting services

In the riverside capital alone, more than 510,000 people have been displaced – equivalent to more than half the city’s population, UNHCR said.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders said it was cutting services to a minimum at its airport clinic after stray bullets killed three children and injured 40 people this week.

“We are not going to continue to put the lives of our personnel at risk,” Lindis Hurum, its coordinator at the site, told the Reuters news agency. “A team composed of five of our 16 doctors will be left in place for cases of extreme emergency.”

Many of the displaced and injured inside the airport camp said they feared they were being abandoned.

“I owe my life today, like hundreds of others here, to MSF [Doctors Without Borders]. But with this suspension of their activities, it will be a massacre,” said resident Saint Cyr Lamaka.

UN declares December 5 as World Soil Day

Posted by Rattana_S On December - 8 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

The United Nations, acknowledging the importance of His Majesty the King’s works, has declared December 5 as World Soil Day. The UN has also set 2015 as the International Year of Soils to celebrate soil as a critical component of the natural system and a vital contributor to agricultural development, nutrition, and food security amid the increasing world population.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of Information chief Sek Wannamethee yesterday said Norachit Singhaseni, the Thai ambassador to the United Nations, had reported that the UN had decided on Friday to observe December 5 as World Soil Day. Following the 17th World Congress of Soil Science hosted in Bangkok in 2002, where some 60,000 members worldwide learned about the King’s soil development projects, the ministry had worked with the Agriculture Ministry to push for a World Soil Day and an International Year of Soils, he said.

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