Turkish, Iranian, Saudi ministers to join Syria talks in Egypt

September 11, 2012, Tuesday/ 17:05:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN WITH REUTERS

The foreign ministers of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt are expected to attend talks next week in Cairo in an attempt to reconcile differences over Syria.

Turkey's former ambassador to Syria, Ömer Önhon, represented Turkey at a meeting of senior diplomats from the four countries that was held in Cairo on Monday in preparation for the foreign ministerial talks.

The meeting started an hour later than scheduled due to the late arrival of Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, according to the Anatolia news agency.

The quartet talks are part of an initiative by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to address the Syrian conflict through the efforts of regional countries. “During the meeting, Egypt will work to reach consensus on a number of fronts of the Syrian issue, mainly halting violence immediately, rejecting foreign military intervention and upholding Syria's unity,” said Nazih al-Nagari, a deputy spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry.

Turkish sources confirmed that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will attend the talks next week.

Whether the four participants will be able to agree on tangible action, however, remains a question. Iran is a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is fighting an uprising against his rule, while the three other countries have all called on him to quit power.

Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran have tussled for influence in recent years in sectarian conflicts across the Middle East. Tehran accuses regional states like Saudi Arabia and Turkey of assisting Syrian rebels fighting to topple Assad.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry said Cairo would seek agreement on several points, including stopping violence, ensuring Syria's territorial unity, rejecting any foreign military intervention and launching a political process to achieve the Syrian people's "aspirations for democracy, freedom and dignity."

Asked why Egypt had not called for Assad's isolation, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said: "We are still at an early stage. The Foreign Ministry statement lays down the principles of action. In the end we want the interest of the Syrian people and the quickest end to the bloodshed."

Analysts have said they see little chance of substantive agreement between the states.

Some analysts said Egyptian President Morsi's main objective in his initiative might have been to put Egypt back at the center of regional politics. Morsi has made several impassioned appeals for an end to violence in recent weeks.

Official Iranian news agency IRNA reported that Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has suggested adding two countries to the Syria quartet. "We agree in principle with this proposal [by Morsi] but Iran has made additional suggestions [and] has requested that two other countries join the meeting," he said, naming Iraq as one of the countries. He did not specify the other country.

"Iraq's presence as ... an important and influential country in the region can play an important role in resolving the Syrian crisis," IRNA quoted Salehi as saying.   

In August, Morsi made the first visit to Iran by an Egyptian president since the Iranian Revolution, taking part in the Non-Aligned Movement summit hosted by Tehran.

In his address in Tehran, while sitting next to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Morsi described Assad's government as an "oppressive regime" and said it was an "ethical duty" to support those rebelling against his rule.

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