Davos forum founder sees Syria, Iran in spotlight

DAVOS, Switzerland — Talks over the future of Syria and Iran will occur on the sidelines of the annual gathering for political and financial elites in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, the founder of the World Economic Forum said Monday.

Klaus Schwab said in an interview with the Associated Press that there will be crossover between the forum’s 2,500 participants and the more than 30 foreign ministers attending the start of the Syria peace conference several hours away in Montreux, Switzerland.

Syria’s main, Western-backed opposition group threatened Monday to sit out this week’s peace conference that is trying to end the country’s devastating civil war. But the head of the opposition has confirmed his attendance in Davos.

“Here you have some of the true leaders with the influence on the region, so I am sure the results will have an impact on our own discussions,” said Schwab, a German-born economist and engineer who founded the Davos forum in 1971. Since then, the five-day gathering, which attracts heads of state, royalty and top executives, has grown into a massive networking event — what some consider speed-dating for the political and corporate elites.

Iranian leaders will also be present at Davos just as some international sanctions on their country are lifted after they agreed to limit the national nuclear program.

But Schwab said it would be too early for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister, Javad Zarifto, to start negotiating new investments while at the forum. First, they need to boost international trust that Iran will respect the terms of their nuclear deal.

“We have to create the reality which allows confidence between the different parties, and only in the next phase you can really talk about business,” Schwab said of the Iranians’ prospects for new oil, gas and other business deals.

Iran’s participation in the Syrian peace talks is complicating the prospects for those discussions. Ahmad Ramadan, a senior member of the Syrian National Coalition, said the opposition group is “suspending” its participation because of the invitation to Iran.

Discussions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are also expected at the Davos forum, with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni all attending. The flagging Mideast peace process is a priority for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is expected in Davos for most of the event, which lasts through Saturday.

Other pressing topics that will likely be touched upon, Schwab said, include climate change, unemployment and the disparity between the rich and poor that could lead to a “lost generation” of youth and social unrest.

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