UN chief boots Iran out of Syria peace talks

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Manju Shukla
Date  21/01/2014
United Nations (United States) In an abrupt reversal, the United Nations barred Iran from this week`s Syria peace conference after it refused to back calls for a transitional government to end the country`s war.

The unprecedented diplomatic action averted a Syrian opposition boycott of the talks, which are scheduled start in the Swiss town of Montreux on Wednesday.

But a key bloc in the opposition coalition broke away in protest at the proposed talks with President Bashar al-Assad`s representatives.

Indeed, besides the division between the opposition groups, the negotiations face major obstacles to ending a horrific civil war that has left well over 100,000 people dead.

In an interview with AFP published Monday, Assad ruled out a power-sharing deal. And new attacks spilled over into neighboring countries.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon withdrew his surprise invitation to Iran, a major Assad backer, less than 24 hours after he announced it.

Despite the offer to take part at the peace talks, Iran refused to back a communique adopted by an international meeting on Syria in June 2012 which called for a transitional government in Damascus.

The UN leader said Iran`s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had repeatedly assured him that he "understood and supported" the aim of the peace conference was to set up an interim government.

"The secretary general is deeply disappointed by Iranian public statements today that are not at all consistent with that stated commitment," said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

Because of Iran`s position, Ban "has decided that the one-day Montreux gathering will proceed without Iran’s participation," Nesirky added.

Ban was "dismayed" by the storm growing around the peace conference, the most intense diplomatic bid yet to end the near three-year war, the spokesman said earlier.

UN officials said Zarif had promised Ban a statement accepting the Geneva communique would be made.

But just before the UN announcement, Iran`s envoy to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, reaffirmed his government`s stance.

"If the participation of Iran is conditioned to accept Geneva I communique, Iran will not participate in Geneva II," he said.

Ban had contacts with the US and Russian foreign ministers before excluding Iran, officials said.

The Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition, welcomed the barring of Iran and said it would go to the talks.

However, the biggest bloc in Syria`s opposition-in-exile, the Syrian National Council, said it was quitting the coalition. It said its taking part in the talks would renege on its "commitments" not to enter negotiations until Assad left power.

In an  interview published Monday, Assad bluntly ruled out a power-sharing deal. He insisted the peace conference should focus on what he called his "war against terrorism".

Assad dismissed the opposition as having been created by foreign backers and said nothing could stop him from seeking a new term as president in an election he wants to hold in June.

Although the talks are scheduled to start in Montreux on Wednesday, the Syrian government and opposition will start talks in Geneva on Friday.

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