CAIRO - Russia on Monday endorsed an Egyptian initiative to reconvene four Middle East powers to try to resolve the Syrian crisis after Saudi Arabia failed to show up for the last two meetings of the group, blunting its clout.
Cairo launched talks involving countries that include three opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad - Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey - and Iran, a staunch ally in his conflict with rebels fighting to overthrow him.
Riyadh, which has long tussled with Tehran for regional influence, sent a representative to preparatory talks on September 10 but skipped two subsequent ministerial meetings.
"We fully support the regional quartet initiative that President Morsi has launched to resolve the Syrian crisis," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after discussions with Egyptian counterpart Mohamed Kamel Amr in Cairo.
"All major players including five members of the (UN) Security Council have agreed on the Geneva Declaration. All the participants have agreed to push both sides in Syria to a ceasefire. We are trying to work with both sides, the government and the opposition."
The Geneva Declaration, which was agreed in June 30 when Kofi Annan was the international mediator, called for a transitional administration in Syria but did not specify what role, if any, Assad - an ally of Russia - would have.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have all said Assad must leave power. Iran has said Syria's problems must be solved by dialogue and elections. Morsi himself has been strident statements against Assad, including at a conference in Tehran.
Russia has long been Syria's major arms supplier and has blocked attempts to isolate Assad with UN sanctions, a move Western powers say would help stop the violence and foster a genuine reform process.
Moscow has opposed what it calls foreign interference in the Syria crisis and says Western calls for Assad to leave power has abetted violence by the insurgents.
Ever since Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi first announced plans for the initiative in August, diplomats have questioned whether the regional quartet could reach any substantive agreement, given the diverse views within it.
Some analysts say Egypt's main goal may have been to put Cairo back on the map as a leading player in regional diplomacy.
Assad bombards Damascus, opposition meets in Qatar
A Western diplomat said the assault in Damascus marked a major escalation in a campaign by President Bashar Assad's forces to quell opposition in the capital's Sunni Muslim areas.
The bombardment, unleashed hours after a rebel attack on a pro-Assad militia, killed at least 10 people, activists said.
In Qatar, divided Syrian opposition groups were meeting to try to forge a cohesive leadership that would then make common cause with rebel factions fighting on the ground, in an effort to gain wider international recognition and arms supplies.
The Syrian National Council (SNC), the largest overseas-based opposition group, was expected to expand its membership to 400 from 300 and to elect a new leader and executive committee before talks with other anti-Assad factions in Doha on Thursday.
Stay on top of the news - get the Jerusalem Post headlines direct to your inbox!