The U.S. State Department said Saturday it will not send a delegation to the Syrian peace talks next week in the Kazakh capital of Astana.

Acting spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. would instead be represented by U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan George Krol, who will attend as an observer.

“Given our presidential inauguration and the immediate demands of the transition, a delegation from Washington will not be attending the Astana conference,” Toner said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said the talks, which begin Monday, will focus on enforcing the cease-fire and allow the distribution of humanitarian aid across the country. He told a Japanese TV station earlier this week he believed the negotiations would result in local “reconciliation” agreements with the rebels.

Russia, Syria’s most powerful ally, brokered the talks with help from Iran and Turkey, which supports the opposition, but has changed its priorities to fighting Kurdish groups and Islamic State.

A number of Turkey-supported opposition groups also have agreed to attend. The rebel groups and Assad are accusing each other of violating the cease-fire.

Russia and Turkey brokered the cease-fire in late December, but violence recently has escalated throughout Syria, particularly around the capital of Damascus.

The ongoing violence has displaced thousands of people, and United Nations senior advisor Jan Egeland said this week access to humanitarian aid was still being denied in some areas.

VOA State Department correspondent Steve Herman contributed to this report


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