Iran’s Zarif in Syria for talks ahead of Idlib offensive

The campaign for Idlib, above, the opposition’s only remaining stronghold in the country, is likely to be the last major theater of battle after seven years of brutal civil war. (AP)
Updated 04 September 2018
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Iran’s Zarif in Syria for talks ahead of Idlib offensive

  • Syrian government forces are planning a phased offensive in Idlib and surrounding areas held by rebels
  • Al-Muallem requested that Iran continue its support for Syria in a meeting in Damascus on Monday with visiting Zarif

BEIRUT: Iran called on Monday for militants to be “cleaned out” of Syria’s Idlib province, as it prepared for talks with Syria and Russia about confronting the last major enclave held by rebels opposed to President Bashar Assad.
Syrian government forces are planning a phased offensive in Idlib and surrounding areas held by rebels fighting Assad, a close Russian ally who has also been backed by Iranian forces in the country’s civil war.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said Washington views the government assault on Idlib as an escalation of Syria’s war, and the State Department warned that Washington would respond to any chemical attack by Damascus.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem requested that Iran continue its support for Syria in a meeting in Damascus on Monday with visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, according to Fars News.
Zarif spoke about Idlib at the start of his visit for talks about a Sept. 7 meeting between Iran, Turkey and Russia on confronting militants in Idlib, Iranian state media reported.
“All of Syrian territory must be preserved and all the sects and groups should start the round of reconstruction as one collective and the displaced should return to their families,” Zarif said, according to Fars News.
“And the remaining terrorists in the remaining parts of Idlib must be cleaned out and the region should be placed back under the control of the Syrian people.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Iran, according to Fars News. The Kremlin says the meeting will take place in Tehran on Sept. 7.

MILITANT ALLIANCE
The meeting will focus on the battle against remaining militant groups in Syria, Zarif said.
“In the meeting that we will have in Tehran next Friday as a continuation of the three-way political round the methods of how to confront extremist and terrorist groups, like Tahrir Al-Sham, will be examined,” Zarif said, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
Zarif did not say whether the meeting will take place between the presidents of the three countries or between other senior officials.
Last week, Iran’s defense minister traveled to Damascus and signed an agreement for defense cooperation between the two countries with his Syrian counterpart.
Tahrir Al-Sham, which includes the Al-Qaeda-linked group formerly known as Nusra Front, is the most powerful jihadist alliance in Idlib.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said Iran would continue its support for Syrian government forces in its battle in Idlib.
“The government of Syria has the right to fight against terrorists in this region. And Iran, as a supporter of the Syrian government, is present and will continue its advisory help as long as the Syrian government wants,” Qassemi said, according to Fars News.
Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis also met Zarif on Monday and told him that Syria would begin reconstruction with the help of Iranian and Russian companies, according to Fars News.
Zarif is scheduled to meet Assad on the one-day trip, according to Iranian media.
Zarif went to Sayeda Zeinab, a shrine south of Damascus revered by Shiites, as his first stop on the trip, according to Fars News. 

Related


Tunisia reforms face fresh strain after president ends Islamist tie-up

Updated 4 min 9 sec ago
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Tunisia reforms face fresh strain after president ends Islamist tie-up

TUNIS: Efforts to rescue Tunisia's ailing economy face the prospect of fresh turmoil after the president declared his alliance with moderate Islamists at an end, deepening divisions in a fragile coalition managing the country's transition from autocracy.
Political analysts say Monday evening's announcement by President Beji Caid Essebsi could make it difficult for the government to enact tough economic reforms sought by international lenders.
"There will be no real risk of toppling the government in parliament, but the problem is that division will deepen, social tension will rise and reforms are threatened under a fragile government coalition," Nizar Makni, a journalist and analyst said.
"Reforms need broad consensus and the lack of compromise may lead to mass protests in the streets, especially that powerful unions rejected all proposed reforms", he added.
Although struggling with high unemployment and inflation, the coalition of moderate Islamists and secular forces has been running what has been hailed as the Arab Spring's only democratic success, avoiding the upheaval seen in Egypt, Libya or Syria.
The Ennahda Islamist party and secular Nidaa Tounes agreed in 2014 on a constitution granting far-reaching political rights, limiting the role of religion and holding free elections, which stands out in a region often run by autocrats.
But Tunisia fell into a political crisis again this year after Essebsi's son, who is the leader of Nidaa Tounes, called for the dismissal of prime minister Youssef Chahed because of his government's failure to revive the economy.
His demand was supported by the powerful UGTT union, which rejected economic reforms proposed by Chahed.

AUSTERITY
But Ennahda came to Chahed's defence, saying the departure of the prime minister would hit stability at a time when the country needed economic reforms.
In his more than two years in office, Chahed has pushed through austerity measures and structural reforms, such as cutting fuel subsidies that have helped to underpin a $2.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other financial support.
The president raised the stakes on Monday evening.
"The consensus and relationship between me and Ennahha has ended, after they chose to form another relationship with Youssef Chahed," Essebsi, the founder of Nidaa Tounes, said in a televised interview.
Analysts said the president's announcement would probably not lead to the overthrow of the government, which still has the support of at least 110 of a total 217 lawmakers in parliament.
But Chahed could find it difficult to enact tough reforms in the face of a strong opposition front including the unions, the president and Nidaa Tounes party.
Last week the UGTT labour union called a public sector strike for Oct. 24 to protest at Chahed's privatisation plans.
"The president's comments will deepen the crisis," senior Ennahda official Lotfi Zitoun told Reuters.
"Ennahda seeks stability and a dialogue that includes all partners to get out of the crisis."
By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia's nine prime ministers since its Arab Spring democratic revolution in 2011.
Chahed has gathered enough support in parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence by working with Ennahda and a number of other lawmakers including 10 Nidaa Tounes rebels.
Since 2011 uprising, nine cabinets have failed to resolve Tunisia's economic problems, which include high inflation and unemployment, and impatience is rising among lenders such as the IMF, which have kept the country afloat.