CAIRO - Egypt's foreign minister wants Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Egypt to meet for talks to work out how to end the Syrian crisis, Egyptian officials said on Sunday, a meeting that would include a regional ally as well as opponents of Damascus.
Iran backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose army and air force have been fighting rebels for 17 months, and Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt - under new president, Mohamed Mursi - have all called for an end to Assad's rule.
Mursi put forward the plan at an Islamic conference in Saudi Arabia earlier this month. This week, he travels to China and then to Iran for a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of 120 developing nations.
"We are currently conducting a series of discussions to explore the possibility of holding such a meeting and the expected outcome," Amr Roshdy, Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters, about the plans for four-way talks.
He did not say when any such meeting would take place.
"We already contacted Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran," he said, referring to telephone talks between Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr and officials in the three other countries
Egyptian presidential spokesman Yasser Ali told reporters that setting up such a group would bring together nations which have "real influence" and described Iran as "part of the solution, not part of the problem".
A Turkish official said Ankara welcomed the idea, a position echoed by an Iranian Foreign Ministry official.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Tehran had "its own views about the political process in Syria" which it would put forward during any such gathering, the official IRNA news agency reported.
"We see any foreign intervention, terrorist actions and armed movements as against the wishes of the people of Syria and we believe these foreign interventions are aimed at eliminating the chance to achieve reforms," he said.
Mursi's trip to Iran will be the first by an Egyptian president since the 1979 Iranian revolution. The two nations do not have diplomatic relations at ambassadorial level, but have missions staffed by diplomats in each others' countries.
The Egyptian presidential spokesman said the trip to Tehran would last only a few hours. Western diplomats said they would be watching to see whether Mursi used the platform to press for support for change in Syria.
Egypt is currently chair of the Non-Aligned Movement and that position will pass to Iran at the Tehran meeting.