In a move that could positively affect the crisis around Syria, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had surprise talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Oct. 16 on policy towards Syria. Erdogan said Turkey and Iran have agreed to form a new channel between their foreign ministries to intensify dialogue and cooperation to end the bloodshed in Syria, with Turkey offering Iran to build a trilateral mechanism to grapple with the worsening Syrian crisis. The meeting took place on the sidelines of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) summit in Baku, Azerbaijan, that ended Tuesday.
Speaking to a group of journalists aboard the plane returning from the Azerbaijani capital later in the day, Erdogan said the proposed mechanism will consist of three-way talks: "We said, let's have a three-legged approach. One of the legs could be the trio of Turkey, Egypt and Iran. Another leg could consist of Turkey, Russia and Iran. And finally, there could be Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt." Results emerging from these separate talks, he said, could then be used as a basis for a compromise solution.
Erdogan had said at an earlier press conference that Saudi Arabia did not want to cooperate with Iran, although they would take part in a new mechanism with Turkey and Egypt. Erdogan said Ahmadinejad had positively reacted to a call by joint UN-Arab League special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi for a cease-fire in Syria during the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, marking the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Erdogan said that both Turkey and Iran would deliver statements at the same time, calling on both sides in Syria to implement a cease-fire during the holiday. He also called on Saudi Arabia and Egypt to also request the sides to declare a cease-fire.
Today's Zaman reports that Saudi Arabia, although attending the first ministerial meeting of the Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Saudi working group, proposed earlier this year by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, has refused to attend the subsequent two meetings.
It seems the Obama Administration is not pleased by this move. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a press briefing that, as far as she knew, Turkey had not informed the U.S. of President Erdogan's talks. Furthermore, she said, the Administration sees Iran as a "malign force in this," and that Iran could only be invited to talks if it dropped its support for the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad.
Warning that the Syrian crisis could inflame the entire region, UN envoy Brahimi told reporters in Lebanon yesterday, "This crisis cannot remain confined within Syrian territory. Either it is solved, or it gets worse... and sets [the region] ablaze. A truce for [the Muslim holiday of] Eid al-Adha would be a microscopic step on the road to solving the Syria crisis... If the Syrian government accepts, and I understand there is hope, and if the opposition accepts," a truce would be a step "towards a more global ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy artillery, a stop to the flow of foreign weapons, and then towards a political solution in Syria," Brahimi said.