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Iran on Monday appeared to rule out participation in Syrian negotiations later this month, dismissing a U.S. suggestion that it could be involved "from the sidelines" as not respecting its dignity.
Secretary of State John Kerry suggested on Sunday there might be ways Iran could "contribute from the sidelines" in a so-called Geneva 2 conference in Switzerland on Jan. 22, and on Monday U.S. officials said Tehran might still be able to play a helpful role.
In remarks quoted by state television, the Iranian foreign ministry's spokeswoman said Tehran supported a political solution to end the Syrian civil war, in which at least 100,000 people have been killed and millions uprooted.
"But in order to take part in the "Geneva 2" conference, the Islamic Republic of Iran will not accept any proposal which does not respect its dignity," the spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, was quoted as saying.
While there has been a warming in U.S.-Iranian ties this year, including a Nov. 24 deal to curb the Iranian nuclear program, there are no visible signs that this has led to greater improvement in other areas such as Syria, where they are on opposite sides of the civil war.
Kerry reiterated U.S. opposition to Iran being a formal member of the peace talks, because Iran does not support a 2012 international agreement on Syria.
That "Geneva 1" accord called for the Syrian government and opposition to form a transitional government "by mutual consent," a phrase Washington says rules out any role for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russia, a sponsor of the plan, disputes that view.
On Monday, U.S. officials said Iran could improve its chances of playing a role in the Syria negotiations by working with Damascus to stop the bombardment of civilians and improve humanitarian access.
"There are ... steps that Iran could take to show the international community that they are serious about playing a positive role," one of the officials said in Brussels.
"Those include calling for an end to the bombardment by the Syrian regime of their own people. It includes calling for and encouraging humanitarian access."
Syrian opposition groups and Washington, which accuse Tehran of supporting Assad with manpower and arms during the uprising against him, have long had reservations about the participation of Iran, although the United Nations special envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has backed Tehran's involvement.
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said there was no agreement yet on Iran's role but Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon favors its participation and hopes agreement on that issue can be reached.
About two dozen nations plan to send foreign ministers to a daylong gathering Jan. 22 at a Montreux hotel, with Ban presiding. Syria's warring factions have been invited.
The peace talks will start Jan. 24 at the U.N.'s headquarters in Geneva with meetings between Assad's delegation and Syrian opposition groups. The meetings will be moderated by Brahimi.
Assad's government has said the president will not surrender power and may run again in elections due later this year.
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