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Egyptian leader seeks to solve Syrian crisis

Morsi also wants Iran to have role in new initiative

President Mohammed Morsi, at right in this Gaza City poster, is setting an independent course for Egypt.Hatem Moussa/Associated Press

CAIRO — Staking out a new leadership role for Egypt in the shaken landscape of the Arab uprisings, President Mohammed Morsi is reaching out to Iran and other regional powers in an initiative to halt the escalating violence in Syria.

The initiative, centered on a committee of four that also includes Turkey and Saudi Arabia, is the first foreign policy priority taken up by Morsi, the Islamist who became Egypt’s first elected leader two months ago.

Following failed efforts by the Arab League and United Nations to stop Syria’s descent into civil war, Morsi’s plan sets a notably assertive and independent course for an Egypt that is still sorting out its own transition.


‘‘We are determined to make this committee of four successful,’’ Yasser Ali, a spokesman for Morsi, said Sunday. He called the Syria crisis the main issue in the Egyptian president’s coming visit to China, which along with Iran and Russia has been a pillar of support for President Bashar Assad of Syria as his military assaulted opposition strongholds. ‘‘Part of the mission is in China, part of the mission is in Russia, and part of the mission is in Iran,’’ Ali said.

Coming at a moment of acute hand-wringing in the Western capitals over how an Islamist leadership of the largest Arab state might alter the United States-backed regional order, Morsi’s focus bisects Washington’s customary division of the region, between Western-friendly states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia on the one hand and Iran on the other, said Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo. But although it involves collaboration with US rivals, Morsi’s specific initiative, in particular, also appears largely harmonious with the stated Western objective of ending the Syrian bloodshed.

‘‘This is a reconfiguration of the regional and international politics of the region,’’ Shahin said. ‘‘It will, of course, raise concerns in Washington and Tel Aviv, but I don’t think this is a confrontational foreign policy. It is a regional foreign policy, tacking a regional problem through the capitals of the four most influential regional states, without looking through the prism of Washington and Tel Aviv.’’


Morsi has already called for Assad to leave power and end the bloodshed in Syria. The escalating violence there has taken on all the trappings of a proxy war that threatens to destabilize the entire region, with Iran among the main backers of the Assad government and Saudi Arabia and Turkey among the main backers of the rebels.

Despite the failure of the Arab League and United Nations initiatives in Syria, some analysts argued that Morsi’s regional approach may have a better chance to broker peace, in part because of the mutual hostility between Iran and the West.

The Egyptian foreign minister had already contacted his counterparts in the other three countries to arrange a preliminary meeting, Amr Roshdy, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Sunday. Morsi first proposed the initiative this month at a meeting of Muslim nations in Mecca, and Iranian state news media has reported that Iranian officials have publicly lauded the plan.