U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sparred with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and UN Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi at a press conference on Monday about the involvement of Iran at the upcoming Geneva II conference. The three leaders were in Paris for conference preparation meetings.
Speaking through an interpreter, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov told reporters "it is quite clear that Iran and Saudi Arabia should participate in this conference." The UN is also supportive of Iran's participation, a view not shared by the United States.
Because the conference is co-hosted by Russia and the United States and convened by the UN, UN Envoy Brahimi said that the matter of who is invited to participate "will be taken by consensus." So far, there has been no consensus on this matter although "Discussions are still continuing... and we hope that before we are over, the right decision will be taken."
The UN envoy's diplomatic response to the disagreement prompted Lavrov to retort "As usual, the UN is trying to shun responsibility..."
Kerry discussed his opposition to Iran's participation at the Geneva II conference, citing support of Hezbollah both within Syria and across the border into Lebanon.
"Iran is currently a major actor with respect to adverse consequences in Syria. Iran is supporting another terrorist-designated organization called Hezbollah, and they are supporting Hezbollah to come out of Lebanon, across cross the border, into Syria, and to be a fundamental basic fighter. No other country, no other nation has its people on the ground fighting in the way that they are and that they are supporting. So this is a fundamental contest with respect to what has to be resolved in Geneva."
Kerry further outlined his rationale for not extending an invitation to Iran, noting that Iran has not signified whether it supports the Geneva I agreement which is the basis for the follow-on conference.
"Now, I want to make one other thing very, very clear. Iran’s participation or non-participation is not a question of ideology. It is a question of practicality and common sense. Lakhdar Brahimi stood here a moment ago and said this conference is for the purpose of putting in place the Geneva I communique. Minister Lavrov confirmed that’s why we’re here. We’ve confirmed that’s why we’re here. We agree on that. But Iran has yet to state whether or not it supports implementing the Geneva I communique, which calls for nothing more than the mutual consent of the parties to a transitional governing process to make peace."
The Geneva II Middle East conference is scheduled to begin January 22.