Iran foreign minister in surprise Erdogan talks: Turkish presidency

File photo shows Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan shaking hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. (Reuters)
Updated 29 August 2018
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Iran foreign minister in surprise Erdogan talks: Turkish presidency

  • Zarif went into the talks at the headquarters of Erdogan’s ruling party
  • Expectations grow of an offensive in Idlib, northwest Syria, bordering Turkey by Tehran’s ally President Bashar Assad

ANKARA: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was on Wednesday holding previously unannounced talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, the Turkish presidency said.
Zarif went into the talks at the headquarters of Erdogan’s ruling party, as expectations grow of an offensive in the Idlib province of northwest Syria bordering Turkey by Tehran’s ally President Bashar Assad.
Turkey has been keeping a wary eye on the possibility of the offensive, as it seeks to bring peace to Syria along with Iran and Assad’s other main ally Russia.
Ankara has throughout the seven year civil war in Syria supported rebels seeking to oust Assad but has put differences aside to form a three way alliance with Tehran and Moscow.
Erdogan and his counterparts Hassan Rouhani of Iran and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are due to meet for a third summit on Syria in Iran on September 7, Turkish reports have said.
But analysts say that Idlib, which is largely controlled by rebel groups, could test the alliance with Turkey, as Ankara warns a military solution could lead to catastrophe and a new influx of refugees across its borders.
Turkey has 12 observation posts staffed by its military inside Idlib aimed at monitoring a de-escalation zone and media reports have said it has sent concrete blocks over the border to reinforce them in case of an offensive.
But analysts also say that Turkey is keen to preserve the three-way alliance and may be prepared to support a more limited offensive against the most extreme factions in Idlib.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday called on the West not to stand in the way of an “anti-terror operation” in Syria’s Idlib.
Lavrov also said that there is “full political understanding” between Russia and Turkey and said it was necessary to “disassociate the so-called moderate opposition from terrorists.”


Britain slams Iran's 'vile ploy' over Zaghari-Ratcliffe prisoner swap offer

Updated 24 min 27 sec ago
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Britain slams Iran's 'vile ploy' over Zaghari-Ratcliffe prisoner swap offer

  • Iranian foreign minister suggested a swap between Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and an Iranian woman held in Australia
  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in 2016 and accused of plotting against the government

LONDON: British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Thursday dismissed the suggestion of a prisoner swap for a British-Iranian mother being held in Tehran as a “vile” diplomatic ploy, while her husband told AFP the idea was “almost impossible.”
In New York, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday suggested a swap between Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is in jail in Tehran for alleged sedition, and Negar Ghodskani, an Iranian woman held in Australia on a US extradition warrant.
Hunt said there was a “huge difference” between the two women.
“The woman in jail in Australia is facing due process, a proper legal procedure, and she is alleged to have committed a very serious crime,” he told reporters in London.
“Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is innocent — she has done nothing wrong.”
He added: “What is unacceptable about what Iran is doing is that they are putting innocent people in prison and using it as leverage.
“I’m afraid that is what is happening with this Australian case. They’re saying, we’ll only release this innocent Brit if you’ll do something that suits us diplomatically.”
Richard Ratcliffe, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband who has been campaigning for her release, said he was “blindsided” by the offer as he followed Zarif’s speech on Twitter and does not think it is the “way forward.”
“It’s clearly a hopeful thing that he was talking about her release explicitly,” he told AFP.
“At the same time, linking her in a public way to a big complicated deal that is almost impossible to do because it’s been made public could easily be a displacement tactic.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation and was arrested in 2016 while visiting relatives for the Persian New Year.
Iranian authorities accused her of plotting against the government and handed her a five-year jail sentence for sedition.
Britain has taken the unusual step of granting her diplomatic protection in a bid to free her.
Ghodskani, a legal resident of Australia, was arrested in 2017 after US prosecutors said she sought US digital communications technology by presenting herself as an employee of a Malaysian company.
US prosecutors said she in fact was sending the technology to Iranian company Fanamoj, which works in public broadcasting.
Both women have been separated from their young children while being detained.
Ratcliffe has also been separated from his daughter Gabriella, who was with her mother when she was detained in Iran and has since remained in the country with her grandparents.
The prospect of Gabriella’s possible return to Britain after her fifth birthday this June is causing Zaghari-Ratcliffe fresh anguish amid her continued detention, he said.
Ratcliffe said his wife was “lifted” by the British government’s decision to grant her diplomatic protection in March.
But he added: “generally, her spirits are gradually sinking now.”