GENEVA -- A last-minute U.N. invitation for Iran to join this week's Syria peace talks has been withdrawn,
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday, adding he is "deeply disappointed" by Iran's statements.
The surprise invitation, extended Sunday
by the secretary-general, set off a flurry of diplomatic activity to salvage
the talks aimed at ending Syria's ruinous three-year civil war.
The U.S. had insisted the offer should
be rescinded and the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group threatened to
skip the event entirely.
The invitation was withdrawn shortly after Iran's U.N.
ambassador declared the Islamic Republic wouldn't join the Syria talks if
required to accept the roadmap sketched during a 2012 Geneva conference on
A spokesman for Ban, Martin Nesirky, said senior Iranian
officials had assured Ban that Iran understood the terms of his invitation.
"The Secretary-General is deeply disappointed by
Iranian public statements today that are not at all consistent with that stated
commitment," Nesirky said.
"He continues to urge Iran to join the global consensus
behind the Geneva Communiqué.
The peace conference is set to begin
Wednesday in the Swiss luxury resort city of Montreux, with high-ranking
delegations from the United States, Russia and close to 40 other countries
attending. Face-to-face negotiations between the Syrian government and its
opponents - the first of the uprising - are to start Friday in Geneva.
But the uproar over Iran's invitation
threatened to scuttle the entire event.
One of the issues with Iran's
participation revolved around the 2012 Geneva roadmap, CBS News correspondent
Margaret Brennan reported. The Geneva roadmap is the premise for the scheduled peace
talks and it calls for a political transition in Syria. Iran's U.N. ambassador indicated
earlier Monday his government would not participate in the talks if accepting
that precondition was necessary.
Additionally, U.S. official said that
Iran has done nothing to de-escalate sectarian tensions in Syria. In fact, many
blame the Islamic republic for escalating problems on the ground in part by
sending uniformed military personnel and mobilized foreign militias to fight in
After the initial invitation to Iran was
extended, the Syrian National Coalition issued an ultimatum, saying that Iran
must commit publicly within hours to withdraw its "troops and
militias" from Syria and abide by a 2012 roadmap to establish a
transitional government. Otherwise, the group said, the U.N. should withdraw
its invitation for Tehran to take part.
The coalition, which had voted late
Saturday to attend after months of rancorous debate, said if those conditions
are not met by 7 p.m. GMT Monday, it would not attend the talks.
But Hadi Bahra, a member of the
coalition's political committee, said the group was willing to be flexible, to
a degree, with its deadline.
"If there are serious efforts and
commitment, then it will be extended, but for sure not beyond midnight,"
he told The Associated Press.
It is not clear what exactly motivated
Ban to issue the invitation, but it came hours after he said he had received assurances
from Tehran that it accepted the premise of the talks - to establish a
transitional government with full executive powers in Syria, which has been
ruled by President Bashar Assad's family since 1970.
Iran is Assad's strongest regional ally
and has supplied his government with advisers, money and materiel since the
Syrian uprising began in 2011. The Islamic Republic's allies, most notably the
Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, have also gone to Syria to help
bolster Assad's forces.
The last-minute decision appeared to
take the U.S. and its European allies by surprise. An Iranian statement said
Iran had accepted the invitation "without accepting any
The negotiations aim to broker a
political resolution to a conflict that has killed more than 130,000 people,
displaced millions and put entire towns and neighborhoods under military siege
in the worst humanitarian crisis in decades.
The cumulative effect of the war has
been disastrous. Syria lies in ruins, its economy shattered, its rich social