With Geneva Syria talks underway, roles for participating nations unclear

01/21/2014 6:42 PM

01/22/2014 3:30 PM

Delegates from around the world have arrived in Switzerland for the beginning of a conference designed to bring an end to the violence that has claimed tens of thousands of lives in Syria. Yet what exactly their role will be at the talks was unclear.

Diplomats from Mexico and Brazil, speculating on why their countries’ delegations had been invited, said their nations were certain to favor a political solution to the conflict between Syrian President Bashar Assad and those who are battling to topple him.

But they also said they were certain that the United States and Russia would have the biggest influence in the outcome of the conference – in no small part because they were the only two countries likely to still be represented when direct talks between the Syrian government and its opposition begin on Friday.

“The fact that we’re from the developing world, we believe that we can speak to the whole conference,” said a senior Brazilian diplomat who, citing diplomatic protocol, agreed to speak about his country’s participation as long as he was not identified by name.

The diplomat said that Brazil is home to one of the largest Syrian communities in the world, which gives it a special interest in seeing peace achieved.

“What we want to see is the parties talking about a political solution over a military commitment,” he said. “Brazilians have some measure of Syrian blood due to our large diaspora population.”

He added, “The developing countries, Brazil, India and South Africa, we plan to talk to the regime and talk some sense into them.”

But a senior Mexican official based in Washington, who also cited diplomatic protocol in asking to remain anonymous, suggested there would be only a limited role for most of the nations who’ll gather in Montreux, Switzerland, on Wednesday. Few will follow when the conference moves to Geneva on Friday.

“I don’t think all the players will be there past Wednesday,” he said.

Only the United States, Russia, the two Syrian delegations and U.N. Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will be involved in any direct talks on the conflict. The 37 other nations in attendance will be window dressing, he said.

Indeed, the diplomat suspected that Mexico might have been invited at the last minute only to give U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cover for inviting Iran, whose invitation and that of nine other countries came on Sunday. Iran’s was rescinded on Monday, after the United States voiced strenuous objections and Iran declined to endorse the 2012 agreement that set the conditions for this week’s gathering.

“The thing that cut the deal was Iran,” the Mexican diplomat said about his country’s invitation.

Ban, asked on Sunday why Mexico had been invited, declined to provide specifics, saying only that Mexico is “a very important regional country.”

The secretary-general’s press office also declined to comment further on the specifics behind the additional invitations, which went to Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Greece, the Vatican, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and South Korea.

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