GENEVA — A last-minute U.N. invitation for Iran to join this week’s Syria peace talks threw the long-awaited Geneva conference into doubt Monday, forcing U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to rescind his offer under intense U.S. pressure after the opposition threatened to boycott.
With the invitation withdrawn, the main Western-backed opposition group said it would attend the talks aimed at ending Syria’s ruinous three-year civil war. The opposition said the conference should seek to establish a transitional government with full executive powers “in which killers and criminals do not participate.”
The surprise invitation, extended Sunday by the U.N. secretary-general, set off a flurry of diplomatic activity to salvage the talks. The U.S. said the offer should be rescinded, and the opposition threatened to skip the event entirely.
The 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.
The uproar over Iran’s invitation put the entire event at risk of being scuttled.
The Syrian National Coalition, which had voted late Saturday to attend after months of rancorous debate, 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.