Last updated: 18 September, 2012

Syria contact group agrees on New York talks

Foreign ministers of the regional “contact group” on Syria agreed in Cairo to hold more talks in New York this month, Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported on Tuesday.

The top diplomats of Egypt, Turkey and Iran met in Cairo to discuss conflict-stricken Syria, but Saudi Arabia, which is also a part of the group, was notably absent.

The ministers agreed to “hold their next meeting in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly later this month,” MENA reported.

“It is too early to say we have come up with any specifics,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr said afterwards.

“We exchanged views to reach a plan as soon as possible to end the bloodshed in Syria,” he said.

The gathering of the “contact group” — an initiative by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi — follows preparatory talks a week ago in Cairo held by lower-ranking officials from the countries’ foreign ministries.

The Egyptian leader, who is seeking an active role in resolving the crisis in Syria, also met separately with the foreign ministers of Iran and France on Tuesday, the presidency said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who attended Monday’s talks, stressed Saudi’s participation was crucial.

“Consultations with Saudi Arabia are necessary because the kingdom is a key player in the attempt to reach a solution to the Syrian crisis,” he said.

The reasons for the absence of Saudi Arabia, Iran’s traditional rival in the region, were not immediately clear but Amr said its minister “had previous commitments.”

Among the proposals put forward at the talks, Iran is suggesting it, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey dispatch observers to Syria in an effort to quell the violence, Iranian state media reported.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi also offered to host the group’s next meeting in Tehran, the official news agency IRNA and broadcaster IRIB said.

Salehi told his Egyptian and Turkish counterparts that “observers” from their countries, and from Saudi Arabia, could “monitor the process of stopping the violence in Syria,” according to IRNA.

He also called for peace talks “to help the process of fundamental reforms and finding a democratic approach in Syria.”

Salehi appealed for “a simultaneous halt in clashes and violence by the sides in Syria, insisted on a peaceful solution without foreign intervention and a halt to financial, military and training support for the Syrian opposition,” IRNA reported, without giving a source.

The United Nations last month put an end to its own observer mission to Syria that was established in April, after a ceasefire failed to take hold.

Iran’s strong support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad contrasts with the positions of the rest of the regional group.

Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are all demanding Assad step down in order to bring peace to Syria, where more than 20,000 people have been killed since an uprising broke out in March 2011.

Iran accuses Turkey and Saudi Arabia of supplying or facilitating military support to Syria’s rebels.

International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who just finished a four-day visit to Damascus during which he met Assad and opposition members, was said by an Arab diplomat to have joined the meeting.