The new mechanism was discussed with Iran when Erdoğan had a surprise meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday in Baku.
Speaking to a group of journalists aboard a plane, while returning from the Azerbaijani capital later in the day, Erdoğan said the proposed mechanism will consist of three-way talks: “We said let's have a three-legged approach. One of the legs could be the trio of Turkey, Egypt and Iran. Another leg could consist of Turkey, Russia and Iran. And finally, there could be [the trio of] Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.” He said results emerging from these separate talks could then be used as a basis for a compromise solution.
“These are the countries that will be primarily effective [in efforts towards the resolution of the Syrian crisis],” said Erdoğan, lamenting that with some of these countries categorically rejecting talks with some of the other countries, efforts towards a solution have been deadlocked. “Iran does not want [the involvement of] Qatar. Saudi Arabia categorically rejects Iran. Then, how are we going to resolve this? Somehow, we have to take a step forward,” said the prime minister.
He also said Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers will be looking into the proposed mechanism and that Egypt also knew about the issue. “We will need to work on the issue with the Saudis as well,” he said.
A senior Turkish diplomat, who spoke to Today's Zaman on the condition of anonymity, stated that since June, Turkey has been negotiating with the countries involved in the Syrian crisis, including Russia and Iran, adding Turkey's initiative shouldn't be read as a new dimension in Turkey's Syria policy. “Turkey wants Iran to be a part of the solution rather than the problem,” said the official.
The same diplomat added that Iran and Russia, the two staunchest supporters of the Syrian regime, were aware that the situation in Syria could not continue as is, adding the two countries had responding positively to Turkey's initiative in order not to be isolated from the international community.
Erdoğan's proposal came after an Egyptian initiative to form a regional quartet with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran stalled due to Saudi Arabia's objection to Iranian involvement. Saudi Arabia stayed away from a meeting hosted by Cairo last month, in what appears to be a reaction to the presence of Shiite Muslim Iran, the major rival of the Sunni Muslim kingdom for regional power and influence.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi subsequently cancelled a meeting of the four regional powers on Sept. 26 because of the absence of Erdoğan from the UN General Assembly, according to Cairo's presidential spokesman.
Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have publicly supported the Syrian rebels while Iran has been the staunchest regional ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, complicating any consensual approach among the four to defusing Syria's civil war.
Russia, too, is a main supporter of the Assad regime, blocking past attempts at the UN Security Council (UNSC) to condemn the Syrian government for the bloodshed by introducing sanctions, fearing that this could pave the way for a military intervention in Syria, similar to the NATO offensive in Libya.
Tensions have emerged between both Turkey and Iran, and Turkey and Russia recently due to differing stances on Syria. Last week, Turkey forced a Syrian plane, which had taken off from Russia, to land in Ankara on the grounds that there was suspicion it was carrying ammunition to Syria, drawing Russian accusations that the grounding endangered the lives of Russian passengers onboard.
US: Iran a ‘malign force'
Iranian involvement in Syria peace efforts is not expected to be a welcome development in Washington as well.
Commenting on Erdoğan's unscheduled meeting with Ahmadinejad at a press briefing on Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Washington continues to believe that “the Iranians are a malign force in this, that they are aiding and abetting the Syrian regime and its war machine.”
“So they can halt that activity before we would see them as productive in any multilateral efforts,” she said, when responding to a question over whether Washington still thinks that Iranian involvement in Syria peace efforts is a bad idea.
The also signaled that the meeting with Ahmadinejad was not coordinated with the US.
“With regard to the meeting, I frankly don't have any particular information that we had advance notice,” she said. “We, as you know, coordinate extremely closely with the Government of Turkey on issues having to do with Syria. And our full expectation, based on what we know of Prime Minister Erdoğan's position, is that he was, no doubt, extremely frank with Ahmadinejad about the Turkish concerns.”
Erdoğan also said aboard the plane that an agreement reached that came out of an international meeting in Geneva on June 30 for creation of a transitional Syrian government was still in place and, in fact, there has been some progress in implementing the accord, but added that Assad's insistence on not leaving power blocks further progress.
Meanwhile, Erdoğan, speaking at a press conference after his return from Baku, also confirmed the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) has been given an observer status in the recent summit meeting of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) in Baku. "One of the most important aspects of this summit was that the KKTC was given an observer status in the meetings. This is an important step and we are glad that we made that happen," said Erdogan.
The ECO move, a diplomatic success for both the KKTC and Turkey, has come reportedly after Iran dropped earlier objections.