Saudi Arabia conspicuous by its absence in Cairo

Regional diplomacy to resolve the Syrian crisis has taken off in Cairo where Foreign Ministers of Iran, Egypt and Turkey met for exploratory talks on taking their dialogue forward.

The three top diplomats — Iran’s Ali Akbar Salehi, Egypt’s Kamel Amr and Turkey’s Ahmet Davutoglu — also met Lakhdar Brahimi, U.N. and Arab League envoy, who has just returned from Syria after meeting President Bashar Al Assad, and a section of the openly functioning opposition that includes Arab nationalists, socialists and Kurds.

Significantly, neither Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Saud Al Faisal nor anyone in his place attended the conclave.

The Syria “contact group” — named as such by Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsy during the recently held meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Tehran — will meet again in New York.

With Iran firmly supporting the Assad government, in contrast to Turkey which has openly called for the fall of the regime, a breakthrough in the first meeting was not expected. Egypt’s credentials as a somewhat neutral player have also not been established after Mr. Morsy’s address in Tehran during the course of the NAM summit, where he announced that Damascus had lost its legitimacy. Yet, the willingness of the three countries to meet at all is seen by some analysts as an expression of their readiness to explore new options to resolve the Syrian crisis which has continued to fester.

Dissonance

The press conference that followed the meeting reflected the dissonance in the approach of the three countries to address the crisis. Mr. Davutoglu tried to present the Syrian situation as an extension of the “Arab Spring” — a studied allusion to the inevitability, in his view, of the fall of the Syrian government.

But Mr. Salehi said the responsibility of finding a solution should not be prescribed by outsiders. He said there must be a “Syrian solution”. Mr. Salehi also emphasised that the “common ground between us [the participants] is more differences”— a clear signal of Tehran’s keenness to persist with a regional initiative.

Mr. Amr said discussions were held on Monday on “a number of ideas and principles in general… which could contribute in reaching a solution to the unfortunate situation in Syria”.

The Cairo ministerial meeting has followed recent preparatory talks in Cairo of officials of the four countries.

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