Officials from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran will meet in Cairo on Monday to discuss the Syrian crisis, but analysts said the regional powers were unlikely to agree on any tangible steps.
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 for him to quit power.
Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite 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.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said the meeting of the quartet, under an initiative proposed by Egypt, would gather senior Foreign Ministry officials from the four nations to prepare for higher-ranking talks.
He told reporters a meeting of foreign ministers would take place in Cairo in the “coming days”, but did not give a date.
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, 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 Mohamed Mursi’s main objective in his initiative might have been to put Egypt back at the centre of regional politics. Mursi has made several impassioned appeals for an end to violence in recent weeks.
The 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 Mursi) 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.
Officials at Cairo’s airport said former Turkish ambassador to Syria, Omer Onhon, arrived to represent Turkey.
Egypt’s state news agency said Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian would represent Iran. It was quoting the head of the Iranian interests section in Cairo.
Egypt and Iran do not have full diplomatic ties but do have interests sections in each other’s countries staffed by diplomats. Ties were broken after the 1979 Islamic revolution and after Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel the same year.
In August, Mursi 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, Mursi described Assad’s government as an “oppressive regime” and said it was an “ethical duty” to support those rebelling against his rule.