CAIRO – Mideast heavyweights had a first high-level meeting in Cairo on Monday as part of a newly formed quartet tasked to end Syria’s civil war, cautioning that a solution would not come easy but that common ground exists between Damascus’ staunchest regional ally and its opponents.
The gathering was the first time foreign ministers from the “Islamic Quartet” met for the dialogue as part of an initiative launched by Egypt’s new Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
“Nobody should expect from one meeting an immediate action plan which we agree upon and could be presented to others,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, adding that what counted was “regional ownership” of the crisis.
The four-nation group brings together three supporters of the Syrian rebellion – Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – with the Syrian regime’s top regional ally, Iran.
The U.N.’s special envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Ibrahimi, and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby had discussed Ibrahimi’s three-day trip to Syria over the weekend, where he met Syrian President Bashar Assad, before meeting the ministers for dinner.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr also acknowledged that a plan had not yet emerged.
While the Turkish foreign minister stressed that the ultimate goal should be “a strong Syria” based on the “legitimate rights and demands of the Syrian people,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said “the solution in Syria should be a Syrian solution,” not “imposed from the outside.”
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 toll to some 23,000.