“These days, we are focusing on a meeting for the Syrian crisis that will bring Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran together,” Davutoğlu told reporter, aboard the plane en route to Ankara from Bishkek on Thursday.
“We are in close contact with the new administration in Egypt. The Egyptian president and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) proposed a meeting, and we are looking positively at it. We are doing our best,” added Davutoğlu.
Experts agree that although it is difficult for such an initiative to achieve the desired result, it is an important step to bring the regional powers together to find a regional solution to the Syrian crisis, which has evolved into a regional crisis.
“This initiative is very important because the Syrian crisis has evolved into a regional crisis. This regional crisis should be solved by the initiative of regional powers,” Veysel Ayhan, an expert on the Middle East from Abant İzzet Baysal University, told Today's Zaman.
The crisis in Syria has dragged on for far longer than any other Arab Spring uprising, in part because of President Basher al-Assad's unwillingness to meet the demands of the Syrian people but also because of rifts among the world powers.
“If this regional initiative had been developed in the very beginning of the crisis, the death toll in Syria would not have reached this point,” added Ayhan.
Since the beginning of the crisis, several meetings and conferences were held to pressure the Assad regime to step down but failed to achieve the desired goal.
One of the most important meeting was the “Friends of Syria Meeting,” which was an initiative that brought together the US and European and Arab countries as well as Turkey. It was consistently vetoed by the two allies of the Assad regime, Russia and China.
Russia and China have opposed tougher UN sanctions against Damascus, a long-time strategic ally, but denies it is actively helping Assad remain in power.
“Turkey realized that in the post-Assad era, Turkey will not be the only actor. Turkey used to have a single-sided Syria policy with the US. But via this initiative Turkey is trying to achieve a multi-sided Syria policy that shares the same concerns with the regional powers,” according to Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, the head of Ankara's International Strategic and Security Research Center (USGAM).
The other initiative was the Geneva meeting, which took place in late June, failing to topple Assad due to the rift among the world powers. World powers agreed in Geneva that a transitional government should be set up in Syria to end the conflict there, but they appeared at odds over what part Assad might play in the process. After the meeting, the US and Russia contradicted each other over the fate of Assad. Iran and Saudi Arabia were not invited to the talks in Geneva.
“Turkey at first developed individual initiatives towards the Syrian crisis and didn't focus on regional initiatives. However, Turkey realized that the Syrian issue was not an easy task and would not be solved without taking into account the sensitivities of regional powers,” said Ayhan.
Since the Geneva meeting, the crisis has intensified, and UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Kofi Annan has resigned, giving reasons that amounted to scathing criticism of world powers' failure to unite to stop the chaos in the Arab state.
Ayhan underlined that without taking into account Iran's role in the crisis, countries would face serious consequences. “In one sense, this initiative is important as it brings together Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia,” said Ayhan.
Turkey and Iran have conflicting policies regarding Syria. Turkey is one of the staunchest supporters of the opposition forces that are trying to topple Assad, while Iran has stood by its ally Syria despite growing international pressure on Assad, while Saudi Arabia continually supported the arming of the opposition.
Agreeing with Ayhan, Erol told Today's Zaman that by neglecting Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Syrian crisis cannot be solved. “The Syrian crisis is a regional crisis, which includes sectarian, religious and ethnic concerns,” said Erol.
The other important meeting was held in Cairo in July. The Syrian opposition met in Cairo to discuss a new international plan for a transitional government that also resulted in failure due to the rift among the Syrian opposition.
“We have very good Egyptian and Turkish coordination and cooperation [on this issue]. We also have Arab unanimity and consensus to support the unity of the opposition. We are not talking about supplying them with arms or escalating the tension at all, but uniting them as part of the transitional government,” Egyptian Ambassador to Turkey Abderahman Salaheldin told Today's Zaman.
However, Erol maintain that the new initiative will not be successful as the political system in Egypt has not been built yet.
Agreeing with Erol, Ayhan stated that there is not a stable political structure in Egypt currently, adding Turkey by including Egypt, aimed to help Egypt in achieving its regional role again. “Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia's Syrian policy is clear. Here, by including Iran, the aim is to pull Iran through conciliation,” said Ayhan.
The crisis has evolved from peaceful protests against the Assad family's four-decade rule to something akin to a civil war with a sectarian dimension.
“There is a perception among the regional powers that the Syrian crisis is evolving into a sectarian war, and they are concerned of a Sunni-Shiite conflict. Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which are in the Sunni bloc, while Iran, which is in the Shiite bloc, are aware that this sectarian war is dangerous. Therefore, they are trying to prevent it via this initiative,” said Erol.
Meanwhile, the OIC suspended Syria's membership recently. Turkish President Abdullah Gül, in the OIC meeting, warned against “falling into the trap of sectarian conflict,” saying this would drag the Muslim world into the “darkness of the Middle Ages.”