World Bulletin / News Desk
Iran hosts a foreign ministers' conference on Thursday to seek a resolution to the intensifying conflict in Syria but its latest diplomatic foray into the crisis has been met with deep scepticism by Western nations.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has billed the meeting of a dozen unnamed countries as an opportunity "to replace military clashes with political, indigenous approaches to settle the disputes," but there are doubts over the attendance of key players involved the crisis.
Those attending would be countries with "a correct and realistic position" on the Syrian conflict, a senior Iranian diplomat said this week, indicating that no pro-opposition nation would be present.
It was unclear which nations would attend.
The crisis has soured Iran's relations with neighbouring Turkey which has hosted opposition meetings, extended assistance to Syrian refugees and demanded Assad leave office.
"Iran wants to co-ordinate efforts among countries that don't accept the Western and Saudi approach to Syria," said Mohammad Marandi of Tehran University. "It's a counter-force to the so-called Friends of Syria gathering."
Iranian involvement in the crisis has been complicated by the seizure by rebels of 48 Iranians in Syria on Saturday on suspicion of being military personnel. Tehran has said they were pilgrims, but acknowledged that some of the men were retired soldiers or Revolutionary Guards.
Iranian officials have engaged in intensive diplomatic efforts in the region this week.
On Tuesday, while Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was in Ankara trying to maintain relations, the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili was in Damascus to reassure Assad of Tehran's support.
The meeting comes just days before a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation set to focus on Syria. In recent days Iran has warned the Muslim world of the threat posed to it by the United States.
"In the new plan that the Americans have provided for the Middle East, they have foreseen changes for all countries," Iran's state news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying on Wednesday.
"I am certain they have plans for changes in Saudi Arabia as well they do not want Muslim countries to have power and in opposition we must stand together more than before," he added.
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