Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a surprise meeting with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of a regional economic conference in Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, to discuss Syria.
The Turkish leader proposed that Turkey, Egypt and Iran might hold three-way talks on resolving the Syria conflict, that has sharply strained relations between Ankara and Tehran. While Iran has backed its ally the Assad regime, Turkey has supported the opposition, while hosting an influx of over 100,000 Syrian refugees and fighting escalating border clashes this month after Syrian mortar killed five Turkish civilians.
Turkey and Iran, along with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are ostensibly part of a regional quartet seeking to push the Syrian regime and opposition into mediation talks towards a transition out of the conflict. But to date, Saudi Arabia has skipped most of the talks, over opposition to Iran’s role.
Thus Erdogan on Tuesday proposed various alternative formulations for a regional contact group.
“We proposed a three-way system here. This system could be a trio of Turkey-Egypt-Iran,” Erdogan was cited by Turkey’s state-run Anatolian news agency Tuesday, Reuters reported. “A second system could by Turkey-Russia-Iran. A third system could be Turkey-Egypt-Saudi Arabia.”
Washington, for its part, reiterated its opposition Tuesday to Iran’s role in the Syrian mediation initiative.
“We continue to believe that the Iranians are a malign force in this, that they are actively aiding and abetting the Syrian regime and its war machine,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told journalists at the State Department Tuesday. “So they can halt that activity before we would see them as productive in any multilateral efforts.”
UN/Arab League envoy Lahkdar Brahimi visited Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq and Iran in recent days before heading to Damascus to explore options for a ceasefire.
But one Arab League envoy argued that the thrust of diplomatic efforts now should be on pressing for immediate talks without preconditions, over a cease-fire, Arab League envoy to Paris Nassif Hitti wrote in a piece for Al-Monitor Tuesday.