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U.N. withdraws Iran’s invite to peace talks

Main opposition bloc agrees to join

The United Nations yesterday revoked an invitation to Iran to attend a crucial peace conference on Syria in Switzerland, culminating a day of chaotic international diplomacy that included loud U.S. objection to Iran’s participation and a threat by the Syrian opposition to boycott the talks.

Under intense American pressure, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon rescinded the invitation to Iran, issued only 24 hours earlier, late yesterday. The main Syrian opposition bloc almost immediately announced that it would join the talks, which are set to begin tomorrow.

Secretary of State John Kerry personally lobbied Ban to rescind the invitation, and U.S. officials suggested that Washington would pull out if Iran was there, jeopardizing an event that has taken eight months of negotiations to bring to fruition.

The brinkmanship over who would attend and on what terms overshadowed the already modest expectations for a session that few expect will lead to the quick exit of Syrian President Bashar Assad. It also underscored that although the United Nations is the conference’s official host, the international body is not calling all the shots.

In reversing course, the U.N. chief echoed the U.S. position that Iran had not endorsed the terms under which the conference is being held. Previously, Ban and other U.N. officials had maintained that Iran, as the main military backer of the Syrian regime and a key Mideast power broker, must be at the table for any meaningful talks about ending the nearly three-year-old Syrian civil war. His office said yesterday that Iran had appeared to back the conference goals during recent conversations.

Ban “is deeply disappointed by Iranian public statements today that are not at all consistent with that stated commitment,” his office said in announcing that Iran was no longer welcome.

The much-delayed peace conference is now set to go ahead tomorrow with foreign ministers from more than 30 nations and continue later in the week with talks between negotiators for Assad and representatives of the Syrian opposition. The sessions would be the first direct talks since the war began.

“We are hopeful that in the wake of today’s announcement, all parties can now return to focus on the task at hand, which is bringing an end to the suffering of the Syrian people and beginning a process toward a long-overdue political transition,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday.

Earlier in the day, U.S. officials said that Iran is prolonging the war and undermining chances for peace and should not be allowed to sit at the table with diplomats from countries that are legitimately trying to end the fighting.

The United States opposed Iranian participation unless Tehran endorsed ground rules set in 2012. Those terms state that the goal of peace talks is a transitional government in Syria, established by the mutual consent of the Assad government and political opponents. Assad’s backers and opponents have always interpreted that goal differently.

Ban had told reporters Sunday evening that Iran had been invited after it agreed to accept that the premise of the talks is to pave the way for a transitional authority in Syria that would take power away from Assad.

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