Iran: We don't want the US at Syria peace talks in Astana

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Officials say they see 'no reason' for United States to participate in negotiations in Kazakhstan

Syrian rebels have agreed to attend the talks in Astana (Reuters)
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Wednesday 18 January 2017 20:50 UTC
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Iranian officials said on Wednesday they were strongly opposed to the United States joining Syrian peace talks in Kazakhstan next week, local media reported.

"We are hostile to their presence and we have not invited them," said Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister according to the Tasnim news agency late on Tuesday. 

That goes against the position of the other two organisers of the talks - Russia and Turkey - which have said the new US administration of Donald Trump should be represented in Astana on Monday. 

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council which oversees international coordination on the Syrian war, confirmed on Wednesday that Iran had refused to invite the US.

"There is no reason for the United States to participate in the organising of political initiatives in the Syrian crisis and it is out of the question that they should have a role in the Astana negotiations," he said, according to the official IRNA news agency. 

Next week's talks, which aim to bring together representatives of the Syrian government and rebel groups, mark the first time since the conflict began in 2011 that the US has not been at the centre of peace negotiations. 

Bahram Ghasemi, a foreign ministry spokesman, told the AFP news agency that any expansion of participants "could increase the risk of failure".

"Our policy is to not add other countries at this stage," he said.

The talks come in the wake of President Bashar al-Assad's major victory last month in retaking Aleppo, Syria's second city and a key rebel stronghold through much of the war. 

Iran and Russia have been the key diplomatic and military backers of Syria in the war, while Turkey has supported rebel groups. 

The three countries are still discussing which officials will travel to Astana, Ghasemi said, adding that other countries could be included in later stages if the "first steps" are successful. 

"The meeting will not be at the ministerial level. It will probably be at the deputy minister level," he said.

Members of the Syrian rebel groups Fastaquim and the Free Syrian Army say they will attend the talks.

Meanwhile, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly the Nusra Front, claimed responsibility on Wednesday for a suicide bombing in Damascus that killed seven people last week.

The attack took place on Thursday in the Kafr Sousa district of the capital, a heavily policed area where some of Syria's main security installations are located.

The group, known as the Nusra Front until it broke off its formal allegiance to al-Qaeda in July, made its announcement in a message posted on social networking sites.