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Syria

U.N. invites Iran to peace talks

Official pledges to play ‘positive role’

  • This undated image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria.  Two weeks of fighting between an al-Qaida-linked group and other rebel forces in Syria has killed more than 1,000 people, an activist group said Thursday, as clashes raged between the rival factions in a northwestern town. The fighting pitting the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other groups are the most serious among rebel forces since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. (AP Photo/militant website)

    This undated image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Two weeks of fighting between an al-Qaida-linked group and other rebel forces in Syria has killed more than 1,000 people, an activist group said Thursday, as clashes raged between the rival factions in a northwestern town. The fighting pitting the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other groups are the most serious among rebel forces since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. (AP Photo/militant website)

  • FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 3, 2008 file photo, a Saudi man stands in front of a wedding dress at a shop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only Arab countries that do not have laws that set a minimum age for marriage. According to a December 2011 Human Rights Watch report, approximately 14 percent of girls in the Arab world’s poorest nation of Yemen were married before the age 15, and 52 percent were married before 18 years old. (AP Photo, File)

    FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 3, 2008 file photo, a Saudi man stands in front of a wedding dress at a shop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only Arab countries that do not have laws that set a minimum age for marriage. According to a December 2011 Human Rights Watch report, approximately 14 percent of girls in the Arab world’s poorest nation of Yemen were married before the age 15, and 52 percent were married before 18 years old. (AP Photo, File)

  • FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 3, 2008 file photo, a Saudi man stands in front of a wedding dress at a shop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only Arab countries that do not have laws that set a minimum age for marriage. According to a December 2011 Human Rights Watch report, approximately 14 percent of girls in the Arab world’s poorest nation of Yemen were married before the age 15, and 52 percent were married before 18 years old. (AP Photo, File)

    FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 3, 2008 file photo, a Saudi man stands in front of a wedding dress at a shop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only Arab countries that do not have laws that set a minimum age for marriage. According to a December 2011 Human Rights Watch report, approximately 14 percent of girls in the Arab world’s poorest nation of Yemen were married before the age 15, and 52 percent were married before 18 years old. (AP Photo, File)

  • This undated image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Two weeks of fighting between an al-Qaida-linked group and other rebel forces in Syria has killed more than 1,000 people, an activist group said Thursday, as clashes raged between the rival factions in a northwestern town. The fighting pitting the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other groups are the most serious among rebel forces since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. (AP Photo/militant website)

    This undated image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Two weeks of fighting between an al-Qaida-linked group and other rebel forces in Syria has killed more than 1,000 people, an activist group said Thursday, as clashes raged between the rival factions in a northwestern town. The fighting pitting the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other groups are the most serious among rebel forces since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. (AP Photo/militant website)

  • This undated image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Two weeks of fighting between an al-Qaida-linked group and other rebel forces in Syria has killed more than 1,000 people, an activist group said Thursday, as clashes raged between the rival factions in a northwestern town. The fighting pitting the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other groups are the most serious among rebel forces since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. (AP Photo/militant website)

    This undated image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Two weeks of fighting between an al-Qaida-linked group and other rebel forces in Syria has killed more than 1,000 people, an activist group said Thursday, as clashes raged between the rival factions in a northwestern town. The fighting pitting the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other groups are the most serious among rebel forces since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. (AP Photo/militant website)

  • This undated image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria.  Two weeks of fighting between an al-Qaida-linked group and other rebel forces in Syria has killed more than 1,000 people, an activist group said Thursday, as clashes raged between the rival factions in a northwestern town. The fighting pitting the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other groups are the most serious among rebel forces since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. (AP Photo/militant website)
  • FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 3, 2008 file photo, a Saudi man stands in front of a wedding dress at a shop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only Arab countries that do not have laws that set a minimum age for marriage. According to a December 2011 Human Rights Watch report, approximately 14 percent of girls in the Arab world’s poorest nation of Yemen were married before the age 15, and 52 percent were married before 18 years old. (AP Photo, File)
  • FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 3, 2008 file photo, a Saudi man stands in front of a wedding dress at a shop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only Arab countries that do not have laws that set a minimum age for marriage. According to a December 2011 Human Rights Watch report, approximately 14 percent of girls in the Arab world’s poorest nation of Yemen were married before the age 15, and 52 percent were married before 18 years old. (AP Photo, File)
  • This undated image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Two weeks of fighting between an al-Qaida-linked group and other rebel forces in Syria has killed more than 1,000 people, an activist group said Thursday, as clashes raged between the rival factions in a northwestern town. The fighting pitting the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other groups are the most serious among rebel forces since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. (AP Photo/militant website)
  • This undated image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Two weeks of fighting between an al-Qaida-linked group and other rebel forces in Syria has killed more than 1,000 people, an activist group said Thursday, as clashes raged between the rival factions in a northwestern town. The fighting pitting the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other groups are the most serious among rebel forces since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. (AP Photo/militant website)

The United Nations yesterday invited Iran to attend an international meeting of foreign ministers in the Swiss city of Montreux ahead of the first direct peace talks between the warring Syrian sides in the nearly three-year conflict.

But it was not clear how Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, would react to the invitation to Iran.

The Coalition, under huge pressure from its Western and Arab supporters, had agreed late Saturday to attend the Geneva peace talks.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters at U.N. headquarters that he had issued the invitation to Iran after lengthy talks in recent days with Iranian Foreign Minister Javid Zarif.

Ban said that Zarif had assured him that Iran “understands that the basis of the talks” is the full implementation of the road map adopted by the U.S., Russia and other major powers in Geneva in June 2012.

That plan called for the creation of a transitional Syrian government with full executive powers.

“Foreign Minister Zarif and I agree that the goal of the negotiations is to establish, by mutual consent, a transitional governing body with full executive powers,” Ban said.

“It was on that basis that Foreign Minister Zarif pledged that Iran would play a positive and constructive role in Montreux.”

The U.S. State Department said it viewed Ban’s invitation to Iran “as conditioned on Iran’s explicit and public support for the full implementation of the (June 2012) Geneva communique including the establishment of a transitional governing body.”

“If Iran does not fully and publicly accept the Geneva communique, the invitation must be rescinded,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

The Montreux meeting precedes peace talks scheduled to begin Friday between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s delegation and Syrian opposition groups at the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva.

The meeting will be moderated by the U.N.-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.

Invitations to the one-day meeting of foreign ministers at a Montreux hotel had been subject to approval by the initiating states, Russia and the United States, but the two countries had been at an impasse over whether Iran, Assad’s strongest ally, should attend. Invitations have now gone out to about 40 countries.

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