By Mick Krever, CNN
Russia warned on Tuesday that the U.S. and international community should not make the mistake of excluding Iran from upcoming Syria peace talks.
“Whether Iran is in the room or not … it’s going to be a player in Syria,” Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “So it’s better to have it in the room.”
The other option, he said, is to “alienate Iran once again.”
“That mistake has been made a number of times before,” he said. “Let’s not repeat it.”
Meanwhile, Iran, the United States, Russia, and four other world powers reached an interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear program this past weekend. Negotiators hope that the deal will lead to a permanent, comprehensive accord.
“Now the nuclear deal has been made, and the United States engaged Iran both multilaterally and bilaterally,” Churkin said.
“We believe that Iran should be invited … but the United States is against.”
The U.S. has expressed openness to Iran attending the new round of talks, but would like to see Iran accept the framework of an existing agreement that calls for a transitional government to be formed by mutual consent of all sides.
The so-called Geneva II conference called for January is aimed at getting both the Assad regime and the opposition to agree to a transitional government as a first step.
But right now, the two sides are as far apart as ever – and crucially, it’s not even clear who, if anyone, will attend from the much-fractured opposition.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Tuesday that his country was ready to attend.
“We have said all along that if Iran is invited, we will participate without any preconditions,” Zarif said.
Ambassador Churkin noted that both U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, as well as the top U.N. official on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, and his predecessor, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, support Iran’s attendance.
Despite the travails in getting the conference to take place, Churkin said that his “gut feeling” was that the talks would take place “unless there is a major provocation.”
“The danger now is an effort by the opposition to reverse the military situation, and to have some military gains,” he said. “Then things can go badly, and in the absence of unity among the opposition, then the convening of the conference may be at risk.”
He said it was crucial that the opposition unify and be represented, and said Russia was helping with that effort.
Russia was also an important member of negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program.
Churkin hailed that deal as “very serious” and a “great achievement” for all sides involved, which presented a “real opportunity” to put the world at ease about a potential Iranian nuclear weapon.
“If it were to happen, and we believe that there is a very good chance of that, then this threat to Israel, which has been hanging over their heads for such a long time, will be taken care of,” he said.
“So I think that the Israelis and other doubters should give everybody an opportunity – those who are involved in the actual negotiations – to move ahead on this deal.”