U.S. officials: Iran not eligible for Syria meeting _lowres

Associated Press photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta -- Secretary of State John Kerry talks about Syria, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, at the State Department in Washington. Kerry urged the Syrian opposition to attend a conference in Switzerland aimed at finding a political resolution to the civil war there, which has claimed more than 120,000 lives.

WASHINGTON — Iran has still not met the criteria to participate in an upcoming international conference on Syria hosted by the United Nations, and its invitation to attend must be withdrawn unless it fully and publicly endorses the aims of the meeting, senior U.S. officials said Monday.

Speaking to reporters in a conference call, the officials said public statements from Iran since it was invited to the conference by the United Nations on Sunday fall “well short” of what is required for Tehran’s participation. They said that they expect the United Nations to reevaluate and reverse its decision unless Iran changes course. The officials declined to speculate as to what would happen if Iran does not meet the criteria and the invitation is not withdrawn. However, they said the United States would not see the point in holding the conference, known as Geneva II, unless all participants accepted its goals.

The officials said the U.N. had been told of the U.S. position both privately and publicly and that Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken several times with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon over the weekend.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter by name. But, their comments tracked with a statement the State Department issued on Sunday after Ban announced that he had invited Iran and before the Iranian foreign ministry said on Monday that Iran would attend without preconditions.

Monday’s statement from Iran “falls well short of meeting the bar” for participation, one of the U.S. officials said. The U.S. has long insisted that in order to participate in the conference, countries must accept the so-called “Geneva Communique,” which was agreed to in 2012 and calls for the formation of a transitional government for Syria that would pave the way for democratic elections. The composition of that interim government would be determined by mutual consent of both the Syrian opposition and representatives of President Bashar Assad’s government, a condition that the U.S. maintains precludes Assad from a role in the transition.

The officials restated U.S. complaints about Iran’s role in Syria’s civil war, including arming Assad’s forces and sending fighters to assist his side.

They said Iran’s actions continued to exacerbate sectarian tensions and the deteriorating situation on the ground rather than easing them.