Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon's decision to bar Iran from Wednesday's opening session of Syrian peace talks is a mistake, but not a disaster. Lavrov spoke Tuesday, following Ban's decision on Monday that Iran would no longer be welcome as one of the more than 30 countries represented at the talks in Montreux, Switzerland.
FILE - Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) meets his Iranian counterpart (R) at UN headquarter in New York in September 2013
Iran rejected the idea of a transitional government in Syria, and Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky said the refusal to accept the long-understood basis for the talks was not consistent with its previous commitment to play a positive role.
The spokesman also said Ban is looking forward to joining those taking part in the "hugely important push for peace."
"The Syrian parties, the region and the international community have an opportunity and a responsibility to end the violence and begin a transition towards a new Syria," said Nesirky.
The Wednesday meeting will give the delegations an opportunity to address the peace effort before the process shifts to talks Friday in Geneva. Those talk will be between only the Syrian sides and U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
A group of foreign ministers are due to speak at the wider meeting Wednesday, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
The United States and Russia have led the effort to organize the talks on the basis of an agreement reached at a 2012 conference to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. The document contains a series of steps, including the negotiated transitional government, a ceasefire and a commitment to allow full humanitarian access.
A senior State Department official said late Monday the long-awaited start of the talks is the "beginning of a process" that will not be fast, and that there is a need for "patience and persistence."
The official said those working to implement the steps toward peace were committed to de-escalating tensions on the ground in Syria, and that Iran's actions throughout the conflict have instead aggravated the situation.
The Syrian government has said the issue of Assad giving up power is not up for discussion, and he said in an interview with the French news agency published Monday that there is a "significant" chance he will run for president again.
The senior State Department official reiterated that the agenda for the peace talks makes it clear that the purpose is for the Syrian sides to implement the so-called Geneva I agreement. The document emphasizes the need to respect Syrian sovereignty while calling for the two sides to mutually agree on a transitional authority that will create the environment for free and fair elections.
The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 as peaceful protests before spiraling into a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people and forced nearly 9 million from their homes.
Related Article: Iranian Invite to Geneva 2 Withdrawn
By Margaret Besheer, VOA
UNITED NATIONS - After a brief diplomatic firestorm, the United Nations announced Monday that Iran will not be attending an international peace conference on Syria in Switzerland later this week.
It began with a rare Sunday night news conference. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that after receiving certain verbal assurances from Iranian officials, he had invited them to attend the first day of a peace conference to be held in the Swiss town of Montreux, in which 40 other countries also will be participating.
But that announcement led to a backlash Monday from Washington, which said the invitation must be withdrawn unless Iran fully endorses the establishment of a transitional government for Syria with full executive powers upon mutual consent - a principle enshrined in what is known as the Geneva Communique from an earlier peace conference in 2012.
The Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-backed opposition group, also said Iran should not attend and it threatened to boycott the talks.
For its part, an expected statement of support from Tehran for the Geneva Communique was not forthcoming Monday.
This led to a flurry of diplomatic activity at the United Nations, with Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky telling reporters the U.N. chief was "urgently considering his options."
A few hours later, Nesirky told reporters Iran would not be attending the one-day meeting in Montreux, ahead of the two-party Syrian talks in Geneva.
"The Secretary-General is deeply disappointed by Iranian public statements today that are not at all consistent with that stated commitment. He continues to urge Iran to join the global consensus behind the Geneva Communique. Given that it has chosen to remain outside that basic understanding, he has decided that the one-day Montreux gathering will proceed without Iran's participation," said Nesirky.
Just before the U.N. announcement, the spokesman for Iranian U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Khazaee circulated a statement to reporters saying, "Iran does not accept any preconditions for its participation" in the Geneva conference. The statement said that if Tehran's participation is conditioned on accepting the Geneva Communique, it would not participate.
Expectations for success are already low ahead of the Geneva talks, and Monday's diplomatic tempest did nothing to raise them.
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