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September 25, 2017

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UN chief boots Iran out of Syria peace talks

UNITED NATIONS/TEHRAN--In an abrupt reversal, the United Nations barred Iran Monday 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.

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

U.N. 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 U.N. 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.

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

But just before the U.N. 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 U.S. and Russian foreign ministers before excluding Iran, officials said.

Iran Slams U.N.

Iran on Tuesday slammed the U.N. for withdrawing Tehran's invitation and said U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon had bowed to outside pressure.

"We regret that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has withdrawn the invitation under pressure," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters, ISNA news agency reported.

"It is also regretful that Mr. Ban does not have the courage to provide the real reasons for the withdrawal," he said.

"This behavior is beneath the dignity of the U.N.'s secretary-general."

Had Tehran been represented, Zarif said, he would have sent his deputy because "the proper time to invite a foreign minister had already passed".

Syrian Opposition Splits

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 AFP 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".

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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