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Regional Powers Discuss Syrian Crisis

September 18, 2012

Regional powers have met to discuss the crisis in Syria.

The so-called "contact group" brings together Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt -- who are all demanding that President Bashar Assad step down -- as well as Iran, which backs him.

They met in Cairo on September 17 to discuss ways to end the crisis.

For unclear reasons, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, however, did not attend and no one was sent in his place.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said the contact group had decided to meet again in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said the four states have a "big role" to play in Syria.

"For us to expect a speedy resolution in this meeting is not realistic. We need to be patient," Salehi said. "However, I assure you that the cooperation outweighs the differences and all confirm the need to find a peaceful solution and specifically the influential countries in the region -- Egypt, Turkey, and Iran and Saudi Arabia -- they have a large role and can bring forward suggestions that in the end, God willing, will bring a result that will make everyone happy."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke of the need for "regional ownership of the issues of our region."

"What we observed today [is] that there are certain principles we agree, but there are certain differences of opinion as you may expect," Davutoglu said. "And we also have the ultimate objective to have a strong Syria after this process, based on the legitimate rights and demands of the Syrian people and how to achieve these goals.

"We will continue to discuss -- nobody should expect from one meeting an immediate action plan which we agree upon and could be presented to others," he continued. "But [what is] important is regional ownership and regional initiative that we decided together."

Analysts, however, are doubtful of the group's chances of success given the distrust between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Analysts say Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi spearheaded efforts to form the group in hopes of bolstering Egypt's role as a regional powerbroker.

Meanwhile, the violence shows no sign of letting up inside Syria.

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.

Brahimi Meets Refugees

In related news, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy on the Syrian crisis, met on September 18 with representatives of Syrian refugees who are sheltering in a camp near the Turkish border city of Hatay.

It was Brahimi's first contact with Syrian refugees since taking over as international envoy from former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan earlier this month.

Some 1,300 Syrians are in the Altinozu camp, while an estimated 250,000 Syrians have fled the violence that has raged in their homeland for 18 months.

Brahimi also met with local officials to discuss the refugee issue.

Turkey is hosting about 83,000 registered refugees.

Ankara has called for the establishment of "safe zones" within Syria for displaced civilians.

Brahimi's visit to Turkey comes after his first meeting with embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on September 15.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/syria-saudi-arabia-iran-turkey-egypt-/24711515.html

Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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