Nightly News   |  January 20, 2014

Sanctions and Syria: Iran’s step forward — and back

While Iran was rewarded for limiting its nuclear enrichment program, the country’s invitation to partake in UN-led Syria peace talks was revoked.

Video Transcript

>>> the federal government said something today about iran that we don’t hear very often. they said that iran has taken, quote, concrete actions that represent an important step forward. this came after iran moved to scale back its nuclear program , and the u.s. and europe started to lift some sanctions as part of that interim agreement . we get the story tonight from nbc’s andrea mitchell .

>> reporter: the seal of approval came from u.n. weapons inspectors today. disconnecting the centrifuges producing iran ‘s high-grade 20% enriched uranium . fuel that can easily be upgraded to power a nuclear weapon .

>> everything going as planned. the 20% enrichment has been stopped.

>> reporter: iran has complied by limiting its uranium enrichment to lower levels, granting full access to u.n. inspectors diluting current uranium stockpiles. halting construction on a separate plutonium plant. within hours, europe and washington lifted some of the sanctions that have cripple iran ‘s economy, permitting some oil exports, imports of auto and airplane parts, and trade in gold and other precious metals .

>> the suspension of these sanctions will enter into force today.

>> reporter: as expected, israel’s prime minister, netanyahu, said today, iran ‘s entire program should be shut down. and now comes the hard part, a final agreement requiring iran to disclose all its nuclear secrets.

>> it’s going to have to answer basic questions about did iran work on nuclear weapons in the past, and do some of those efforts continue.

>> reporter: today’s breakthrough came 33 years to the today after the american diplomats were freed. now iran ‘s new president rouhani offers hope of a new beginning, unless rouhani is blocked by hard liners.

>> a major open question is whether president rouhani can actually implement any deal inside iran .

>> reporter: or unless the deal is blocked by its many critics in congress. what iran is cooperating on the nuclear issue, it is still arming president assad. so after intense pressure from the u.s., tonight the u.n. has withdrawn its invitation to iran to take part in peace talks this week on syria. the first talk since the war started more than two years ago. brian?

>> andrea mitchell in our d.c. newsroom tonight, thanks.

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United Nations withdraws Iran invitation to save Syria peace talks

Iran was stopped from attending long-awaited Syrian peace talks last night after an extraordinary last-minute invitation almost led to the breakdown of the whole process.

The United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, had shocked the United States, its western allies and the Syrian opposition by announcing that Iran would attend the talks, starting on Wednesday.

Iran is the Syrian regime’s most important sponsor, and the move was also welcomed by Russia, which said Iran’s absence would be an “unforgivable mistake”.

But the opposition Syrian National Coalition, which had only reluctantly agreed to its western backers’ demands it attend after a vote on Saturday, immediately said it would pull out.

It gave Mr Ban until last night to withdraw the offer if Iran did not immediately promise to withdraw its forces from Syria and agree to the formation of a transitional government, as agreed in a previous round of talks in Geneva in June 2012.

When Iran refused to do so, Mr Ban was forced to backtrack. “He continues to urge Iran to join the global consensus behind the Geneva communique,” his spokesman said. “Given that it has chosen to remain outside that basic understanding, he has decided that the one-day Montreux gathering will proceed without Iran’s participation.”

The Montreux part of the talks will be attended by a Syrian delegation led by the Assad regime’s foreign minister and the Coalition representing the rebels, as well as ministers from an array of states supporting either side in the conflict, including Russia, the United States and Britain.

Talks will then resume in Geneva on Friday, with direct negotiations taking place between the two Syrian sides conducted in closed-door session by the UN envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi.

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Syria talks: Iran and Russia angry over invitation withdrawal

Tehran says UN’s rescinding of invite is deplorable while Moscow says Iran’s absence could jeopardise peace talks
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov

Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said the UN’s withdrawal of Iran’s invitation to Syrian peace talks was a mistake, but not a catastrophe. Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

Bashar al-Assad’s key international allies in Moscow and Tehran have reacted angrily to the UN’s decision to rescind Iran‘s invitation to this week’s peace talks on the crisis in Syria.

The UN hastily withdrew its surprise invitation after pressure from the US and a threat that the Syrian opposition would boycott the talks.

The build-up to the talks, which are due to start in the Swiss town of Montreux on Wednesday, is being overshadowed by Iran’s non-attendance, and new evidence showing the Syrian government has been involved in the systematic killing of thousands of political detainees.

Iran, which is accused of providing military and financial backing to the Assad government, said the decision to withdraw its invitation was deplorable.

Russia‘s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who helped broker the talks with his US counterpart, John Kerry, said the UN move was a mistake. While it was not a catastrophe, it made the slim prospect of an agreement less likely, he said.

Speaking at his annual press conference in Moscow, Lavrov said Iran’s presence at the event would have given it more chance of succeeding.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking to reporters in Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat, said it was regrettable that the UN general secretary had rescinded the invitation and that Tehran had only accepted it reluctantly in the first place.

“Unfortunately, Ban Ki-moon came under pressure after extending an invitation to Iran,” Zarif said, according to the semi-official Isna news agency. “We were not eager to participate in the first place and had only decided to attend because we were invited.”

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