Iran ready to join Syria peace talks if invited: Zarif

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Tuesday that Tehran was prepared to take part in the Syria peace talks in Geneva, slated for January 22, if invited.

"Participation of Iran in Geneva 2 is in our view an important contribution to the resolution of the problem. We have said all along that if Iran is invited, we will participate without any preconditions," Zarif told Iran's Press TV.

Iran is the main backer, along with Russia, of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a conflict that has lasted more than two years, killed more than 100,000 people and uprooted millions more.

Tehran's participation in the peace talks would likely strengthen any agreement reached in Geneva.

But for Western governments, Iran's reluctance to endorse last year's international accord on Syria has been a bar to its attendance at the talks, widely referred to as "Geneva 2".

Washington has opposed Iran attending the talks because it has not signed on to a core element of the so-called "Geneva 1" framework. This says a future Syrian government must be formed by "mutual consent" of the authorities and the opposition, a stance the United States says means Assad cannot stay in power.

But relations between Iran and Washington, frozen for decades, have improved sharply since the election in June of President Hassan Rouhani who promised to pursue a policy of "constructive engagement" with the West in order to win relief from international sanctions over Iran's nuclear program.

At the same time, however, Iran has maintained its unswerving support for the Assad government.

Zarif said resolving the Syria crisis was an issue of "national importance" for Iran and whether invited or not, Tehran would continue to work for a peaceful solution.

He also denied reports that Syria was discussed during Iran's nuclear talks with six world powers in Geneva last week.

(Reporting by Isabel Coles; Writing by Yara Bayoumy and Jon Hemming; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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