UN chief withdraws Iran invite to Syria talks

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon late Monday withdrew an invitation for Iran to participate in Syrian peace talks just one day after issuing it following a negative reaction from Syria's rebels that threatened to scuttle the talks entirely.

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“[Ban] continues to urge Iran to join the global consensus behind the Geneva communiqué,” spokesman Martin Nesirky said, according to Reuters. “Given that it has chosen to remain outside that basic understanding, [Ban] had decided that the one-day Montreaux gathering will proceed without Iran's participation.”

Sunday's invitation came as a surprise and caused an immediate uproar. The Syrian Opposition Coalition, a group of Western-backed rebel figures, issued an ultimatum demanding the invitation's withdrawal as a condition for their attendance. If opposition groups refuse to attend, the peace talks will collapse.

The U.S. State Department, meanwhile, swiftly called for the invitation to be taken back in an effort to salvage the talks.

"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 spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement late Monday.

Ban had told reporters on Sunday that he issued the invitation after Iran had committed to the goal of seeking a transitional Syrian government that would deprive President Bashar Assad of power, a concession they had previously refused to make. However, an Iranian official later claimed Iran had agreed to no such thing. Ban said these later statements were “not consistent” with what he had been told by Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.

The peace conference seeking to resolve Syria's three-year civil war is scheduled to begin Wednesday in Switzerland, with representatives from nearly 40 countries in attendance. Direct talks between the Syrian government and opposition are set to begin on Friday in Geneva.

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