Regional quartet on Syria to stay in touch: diplomat

CAIRO Tue Sep 11, 2012 10:00am EDT

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran will pursue contacts on a solution to Syria's conflict after launching talks in Cairo that grouped one ally and three opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, a senior diplomat said on Tuesday.

The diplomat, who was involved in the talks, did not elaborate on further gatherings. But Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr had said shortly before the discussions on Monday evening that delegates would prepare for a ministerial meeting in Cairo in "coming days".

Iran's Fars news agency said that Tehran, one of the Syrian president's few remaining allies as he battles to crush a popular rebellion, proposed expanding the group to include Iraq and Venezuela.

Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim-led government has pointedly not joined calls by Sunni Muslim-ruled Arab states for Assad, whose Alawite sect is related to Shi'ism, to step down, while Venezuela's stance on Syria reflects its close ties with Iran.

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi had called for the quartet to meet as part of efforts to bring together regional players to end the bloodshed in Syria, where Sunni-led insurgents are seeking to end four decades of rule by Assad and his family.

Analysts are skeptical that any tangible agreement on action can be reached between Iran, a staunch supporter of Assad, and the three other states which have all called for him to quit.

Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran have tussled for influence in recent years in sectarian conflicts across the Middle East. Tehran accuses regional states like Saudi Arabia and Turkey of assisting Syrian rebels fighting to topple Assad.

"It provided a useful exchange of views and perspectives on the situation in the region. The parties will maintain their consultations," the senior diplomat said of Monday's quartet talks. "The talks were positive and useful."

The Egyptian hosts did not issue any official statement after the meeting.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, who represented Iran at the talks, said Egypt had suggested a second round of talks at the ministerial level, Fars news agency reported. He said Iran welcomed the proposal.

(Additional reporting by Yeghani Torbati in Dubai; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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