CAIRO: Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi Wednesday urged Syrian opposition groups to unify as the leader of the opposition coalition front laid out final terms for an offer for dialogue with the Syrian regime.
Mursi was addressing leaders of Islamic states at a summit that also tackled the battle against militants in Mali.
“The Syrian regime must draw lessons from history: It is the people who remain. Those who put their personal interests above the interests of their people will end up leaving,” he told heads of state and representatives of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Cairo.
Among them was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in the first visit to Egypt by an Iranian president since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iran is the chief regional backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Egypt and Gulf powerhouse Saudi Arabia bitterly oppose Assad.
Mursi called on opposition parties not allied to Syria’s National Coalition, which is recognized by the international community, “to coordinate with this coalition and support their efforts for a unified approach ... for democracy.”
The meeting gathers leaders of 26 of the OIC’s 57 states, with Mursi assuming the organization’s rotating presidency. Syria is not represented.
According to a draft resolution seen by news agencies, the gathering will call for “serious dialogue” between the Syrian opposition and government officials “not directly involved in oppression.”
The call for dialogue will pile pressure on Assad to respond to a surprise offer of talks by Ahmad Moaz Khatib, leader of the National Coalition.
The document stresses the need to maintain “Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” while underlining that “the main responsibility for the continued violence falls on the government.”
The Syrian government has yet to formally respond to the offer of dialogue and Khatib Wednesday revised his terms and a final deadline for a response, saying the regime had until Sunday to release all women detainees, otherwise he would regard his offer as rejected, in quotes made to BBC Arabic.
“The initiative would be broken” if the detainees are not released, BBC Arabic quoted him as saying on its website.
Khatib also said Damascus was letting Iran make its decisions and his proposal for dialogue with Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa was rejected.
The foreign minister of Iran said Wednesday he thought the Syrian government was ready to negotiate with the opposition and that the two sides would have to sit together for talks, the Egyptian state news agency MENA reported.
“I think that the Syrian government is ready to negotiate with the opposition,” Ali Akbar Salehi told MENA, as the presidents of Iran, Turkey and Egypt held a three-way meeting on the sidelines of the Islamic conference.
An Iranian official said on condition of anonymity that Tehran hoped Syria’s opposition would “soften its stance” on talks with the regime.
International Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi meanwhile welcomed Khatib’s offer as “positive,” albeit with conditions. “This is an inspired personal initiative by Sheikh Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, despite the various reactions from other members of his group,” Brahimi said in an interview to be published in the French daily La Croix Thursday.
“It’s a positive element that has been judged as such by the international community, Western countries as well as Russia and Iran.”
He added however that it was not enough for a political solution.
The summit will also discuss the conflict in Mali, where French forces intervened on Jan. 11 to help the army halt an Islamist advance on the capital Bamako, as well as Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. Sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites were highlighted Tuesday during Ahmadinejad’s visit to Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning. Senior Al-Azhar preachers launched into a tirade against “some Shiites” for insulting some of the Prophet Mohammed’s companions. Ahmadinejad was also targeted by a shoe-throwing protester as he left a Cairo mosque.