CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s president received Turkey’s foreign minister on Monday for talks on the Syrian crisis, hours before regional heavyweights convene in hopes of ending the country’s civil war.
The Cairo meeting will be the first time foreign ministers from the four-nation “Islamic Quartet” gather for dialogue on Syria, in an initiative launched by Egypt’s new Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.
The grouping, proposed by Morsi in Saudi Arabia last month, brings together three supporters of the Syrian rebellion — Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — with the Syrian regime’s top regional ally, Iran.
Egyptian presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Morsi that Iran’s support and financial backing of the Syrian regime is well known.
According to Ali, Davutoglu also said that he expected the quartet meeting later in the evening to take a close look at the Iranian-Syrian relationship in order to persuade Damascus to stop the bloodshed.
Cairo is trying to convince Iran to drop its unquestioned support of Syria’s embattled President Bashar Assad in exchange for help in easing Tehran’s regional isolation, officials close to the Egyptian presidency said last week.
Morsi was said to have offered a package of incentives for Tehran, including the restoration of full diplomatic ties and efforts toward reconciliation with wealthy Gulf nations — a significant diplomatic prize for the Islamic Republic, especially as it comes under mounting pressure over its disputed nuclear program.
Upon arrival at the foreign ministry in Cairo for the meeting, Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said he was coming with a message of peace, brotherhood and assurance.
Notably absent is Saudi’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who earlier this month was recovering from abdominal surgery in the United States. His deputy is attending the meeting instead.
Alongside the foreign ministers, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, is scheduled to join the group at a dinner following the meeting. Brahimi met with Assad while in Syria over the weekend.
Meanwhile, the carnage shows no sign of abating. Syrian activists say nearly 5,000 people were killed in August, the highest monthly total since the crisis began in March 2011 — bringing the overall death toll from the conflict to some 23,000.
Turkey, which hosts some 80,000 Syrian refugees, has accused its southern neighbor of “state terrorism” and allowed rebels to use its territory as a base. Saudi Arabia has taken a leading role in supporting the opposition seeking to topple the regime, while Egypt’s president has urged Assad to take a lesson from the Arab Spring uprisings that deposed other leaders and step down.
Syria has responded by saying Morsi’s comments were “blatant interference in Syrian internal affairs” and accused Turkey of “practicing terrorism against the Syrian people by harboring, supporting and training armed terrorist groups.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.