Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi said early Tuesday that he opposes any foreign military intervention in the Syria conflict but believes President Bashar al-Assad must go.
In an interview with PBS television’s Charlie Rose ahead of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, Mursi said the diplomatic quartet of Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey could help end the 18-month-old conflict.
“I am against foreign intervention by force in what happens in Syria,” Mursi said. “I do not condone this and I think that it is a big mistake if it happens,” he added through an interpreter. “Egypt does not agree to this.”
Mursi, a former senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood who became Egypt’s first democratically elected president in June, said Arab nations should “support the people of Syria in their march toward freedom.”
“President Assad has no choice but to leave,” Mursi added. “There is no room for political reform. Change is what the people want, and the will of the people must be respected,” he added.
“The regime should have realized that the military solution would not stop the revolution. Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more could follow, so the main thing is to stop the bloodshed,” he said according to AFP.
Mursi said he had brought together officials from Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey in a bid to find a solution to the conflict, in which Syrian activists say more than 29,000 people have been killed.
The Syrian government has accused Saudi Arabia and Turkey of arming opposition rebels, while UN experts have said Iran is arming Assad's forces.
"This is the reason why I chose these countries,” Mursi said. “You cannot solve the problem without those countries which intervene in the problem. The stakeholders are the ones who sit down together to solve the problem.”
The Egyptian leader added that he hoped he could bring together the heads of states of the four nations to discuss the civil war.
Mursi is to speak at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.
On Monday, meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reassured Mursi that the United States would forge ahead with plans to expand economic assistance despite anti-American protests that cast new shadows over U.S. engagement with the region.
Clinton met Mursi in New York and reinforced the Obama administration’s continued commitment to provide both military and economic aid for Cairo, a senior State Department official said.
“What he heard from the secretary is that she is committed to following through on what she has said we will do,” the official said following the 45-minute meeting, Reuters reported.
U.S. officials said earlier this month they were close to a deal with Egypt’s new government for $1 billion in debt relief to help Cairo shore up its ailing economy in the aftermath of its pro-democracy uprising, which ousted autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.
The aid package had languished during Egypt’s 18 months of political turmoil and progress appeared to reflect a cautious easing of U.S. suspicions about Mursi, who was elected in June.
Mursi will use his New York trip to appear at former President Bill Clinton’s annual philanthropic summit but has no plans to meet U.S. President Obama, who is forgoing individual meetings with world leaders during his own brief stop at the United Nations on Tuesday.
Clinton and Mursi also discussed security issues including a rising militant threat in the Sinai Peninsula, a region critical to relations with neighboring Israel.
The U.S. official said Clinton and Mursi also touched on the issue of Iran but indicated the United States would be slow to support Mursi’s proposal that Iran, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia form a new group to try to find a solution to the violence in Syria.
“The Egyptians themselves would say that it's a new initiative and no one is sure whether it is going to head toward an end point or not,” the official said. “We always have concerns when Iran is engaged.”
Obama's rival in the U.S. presidential race, Republican Mitt Romney, called for a tougher line with Egypt after protesters scaled the Cairo compound wall and tore down the U.S. flag in one of series of protests that also saw the U.S. consulate attacked in the Libyan city of Benghazi, killing the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Obama created doubts this month when he told a Spanish-language television network that the United States considered the new Islamist government neither an ally nor an enemy.
The U.S. official said Clinton’s meeting with the Egyptian leader was relaxed and warm and waved away suggestions that the president’s “ally” comment reflected broader uncertainty in the relationship.
“We’ve moved past that,” the official said.