Egypt looks to new regional plan on Syria

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 7 Feb 2013

On the fringe of the OIC summit, Cairo, Istanbul and Tehran are considering a new initiative that would bring together Syrian regime and opposition

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi (first row, 12th L) stands with other leaders of Islamic nations for a group photo before the opening of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Cairo February 6, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

At the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Cairo, the leaders of Egypt, Turkey and Iran came together to discuss a recent political initiative made by Syrian opposition figure Moaz Al-Khatib to initiate dialogue between Syrian opposition and the regime, in search of a political deal to end almost two years of bloodshed in the country.

Earlier this week, Al-Khatib, a leading figure of the Syrian opposition, acknowledged the need for dialogue with the Syrian regime to end the conflict and reach a political outcome.

Although he threatened on Thursday to withdraw his initiative if the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad failed to release female political prisoners in the next few hours, regional diplomats participating in the summit, which opened yesterday in Cairo, agreed that contacts with Al-Khatib show that he would move on with his initiative if he gets a positive reaction from the Syrian regime, and if regional powers agree to help him.

Egyptian and Turkish leaders, who have both publically denounced the Al-Assad regime, and their Iranian counterpart who is still supporting Assad, agreed this week to initiate independent and collective consultations with Al-Khatib on his initiative, according to diplomats from the three countries. 

The three countries are, along with Saudi Arabia, members of a four-state mechanism on Syria that was proposed by Egypt but that never gained momentum, due to sensitivities between Riyadh and Tehran.

“Today we have a new given that we can work on – it might be through this mechanism or through another mechanism; of course there is also the Arab League – UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi who can help,” said an Egyptian diplomat.

For the three key regional capitals, a political resolution to the situation in Syria needs to be reached sooner rather than later.

“The longer this crisis persists, the longer the entire region will be in a state of instability, and we are already seeing some spill over of Syrian unrest into Iraq,” said a Turkish diplomat.

Above all, Cairo, Ankara and Tehran agreed this week that if the search for a political solution in Turkey continues to be so elusive then there are no guarantees regarding Israel’s next step on Syria.

A few days ago Israel attacked a site inside Syria, apparently to destroy weaponry.

Regional and Western diplomats in Cairo say that Israel claimed to them that the targeted site was one of weapons of mass destruction that Tel Aviv feared Hezbollah would obtain.

“We have not verified this on our side but one thing is sure is that the US did not oppose this strike,” said one Cairo-based Western diplomat.

According to another “there are no guarantees that Israel will not hit again.”

Egyptian diplomats speaking to Ahram Online expressed deep concern over the consequences of any possible involvement by Israel in the Syrian crisis.

“I am not saying we are expecting one; I am saying that should this happen it would be a nightmare; the best way out is to give a push to any possible initiative that could initiate the process of political settlement,” said one.

“The initiative of El-Khatib could be a good beginning especially as it has the initial support of Russia and the West and now it has the support of the key regional capitals,” he added.

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