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. Secretary-General 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With the invitation withdrawn, the main Western-backed opposition group said it would attend the talks aimed at ending Syria's ruinous three-year civil war.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.
The surprise invitation, extended Sunday by Ban, set off a flurry of diplomatic activity to salvage the talks. The United States said the offer should be rescinded, and the Syrian opposition threatened to skip the event entirely.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 voted 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 road map to establish a transitional government. Otherwise, the group said, the United Nations should withdraw its invitation for Iran to take part.
It is not clear what exactly motivated Ban to issue the invitation, but it came hours after he said he had received assurances from Iran that it had accepted the premise of the talks.
Iran is Syrian President Bashar Assad's strongest regional ally, supplying his government with advisers, money and materiel since the uprising began in 2011.
The last-minute invitation appeared to take the United States and its European allies by surprise. Senior U.S. officials said Iran had not met the criteria to participate in the conference unless it fully and publicly endorsed the aims of the meeting.
In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying that Iran does not recognize the Geneva road map because it did not attend the conference that drafted it.