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US hopes withdrawal of Iranian invitation to Syria conference refocuses attention on results

WASHINGTON - The United States on Monday welcomed U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon's decision to rescind his invitation to Iran to attend an international conference on Syria this week, saying it hoped the move would refocus attention on the goals of the meeting.

"We are hopeful that, in the wake of today's announcement, all parties can now return to focus on the task at hand, which is bringing an end to the suffering of the Syrian people and beginning a process toward a long overdue political transition," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. The statement was released shortly after the U.N. announced that Ban had withdrawn the invitation that he had issued to Iran on Sunday and the main western-backed Syrian opposition group dropped its threat to boycott the conference, known as Geneva II.

Secretary of State John Kerry is to attend the conference, which is actually being held in the Swiss town of Montreux, on Wednesday.

U.S. officials said earlier Monday that they expected the United Nations would reevaluate the invitation and rescind it unless Iran fully and publicly endorsed the aim of the meeting, which is to begin to prepare a transitional government for Syria that would pave the way for democratic elections there. That goal was outlined in 2012 in the so-called "Geneva Communique," to which the U.S. and others said all conference participants must embrace. Iran had refused to do so, although the U.N. said Ban had received assurances from Tehran that it would.

Public statements from Iran after Ban issued the invitation fell "well short" of what was required, the U.S. officials said.

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.

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