WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iran will not attend peace talks on the Syrian civil war due to take place in Switzerland this month, senior State Department officials said on Friday.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that barring a dramatic change in Tehran’s position, Iran would neither participate formally in the January 22 talks nor join informally on the sidelines.
“That’s right, they’re not coming,” said one of the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry had said there might be ways that Iran, which has backed and armed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, could “contribute from the sidelines” at the so-called Geneva 2 peace conference, which will take place in Montreux, Switzerland.
Iran appeared to reject the offer the next day.
The peace conference is intended to follow up on a 2012 international agreement on Syria, which plunged into civil war nearly three years ago, that called for a new transitional government.
While Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, backs a role for Tehran in the Geneva 2 conference, Kerry has said it cannot participate formally because it does not accept the 2012 agreement.
U.S. officials have said Iran could improve its chances of playing a role on the sidelines of the Syria peace talks by working with Damascus to stop the bombardment of civilians and improve humanitarian access.
The State Department official said it was possible Iran could change its position and participate in Geneva 2 in some way, “but we see no evidence of that.”
The officials were speaking in advance of a trip by Kerry to Paris this weekend where diplomats will urge the fractious Syrian opposition to coalesce in advance of peace talks.
U.S. officials had said on Monday that the issue of Iran’s participation in some form would be discussed at the Paris meeting.
On Friday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that Syrian opposition leader Ahmad al-Jarba would take part in the Paris meeting.
Reporting by Warren Strobel Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by James Dalgleish