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Washington (AFP) – The United States on Tuesday accused Iran of helping “brutalize” Syria as Secretary of State John Kerry prepared to talk to Russia about Tehran’s potential role at a peace conference.

Kerry will meet in Paris on January 13 with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss whether Iran should take part in the conference later this month in Switzerland aimed at ending the nearly three-year-old war in Syria, the State Department said.

Russia, like Iran a supporter of Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad, supports participation by Tehran. Kerry, who has negotiated a thaw with Iran on its disputed nuclear program, earlier said that the clerical regime could play a role in the Syria conference from the “sidelines.”

But UN leader Ban Ki-moon did not include Iran in his invitations to 30 countries and the United States on Tuesday renewed calls for Iran to state that it would support a process in which Assad would ultimately step down.

“At this point, Iran has done nothing but helped the regime, help bring foreign fighters in, help the regime’s efforts to brutalize the Syrian people,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

“If they wanted to send a message to the world about their seriousness of having a positive outcome, there are steps they could take. There’s no indication that they have any desire or interest in taking any of these steps,” she said.

Iran, run by Shiite clerics, considers Assad its main Arab ally. Assad, a member of the heterodox Alawite sect, is fighting Sunni rebels who enjoy support from Gulf Arab kingdoms.

Iran has scoffed at Kerry’s offer of a sideline role at the peace talks, saying it would only accept offers that respect the country’s “honor.”

Iran last year elected moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who has reached a breakthrough, but temporary, accord with the United States and other Western powers to freeze sensitive nuclear work.

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