Foreign Affairs minister Julie Bishop met with the Islamic Republic of Iran Foreign Affairs minister Dr Mohammad Javad Zarif at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran Iran on Saturday. Photo: Andrew MearesForeign Minister Julie Bishop’s bazaar walk a bizarre sight for locals
Iran has agreed to send officials to Australia for talks that Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop hopes will eventually lead to a deal for sending back Iranian asylum seekers deemed not be to refugees.
Ms Bishop met Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, in Tehran on Saturday in the first visit by an Australian minister to the Islamic Republic of Iran in more than a decade.
The conflict in neighbouring Iraq was also a major theme of the talks, with Dr Zarif declaring aerial bombardment alone would not defeat extremists from Islamic State.
Iran is playing a major role in the war in Iraq, openly supporting Shia militia fighting in the country against Islamic State, but Dr Zarif said any action was taken with co-ordination of Iraq’s government.
Ms Bishop was keen to stress the 300 Australian troops sent to Iraq last week would not take part in combat but train Iraqi forces, and the deployment had a two-year timeframe.
Ms Bishop described the talks as positive, and said Iran had agreed to what she called a “consular dialogue” on Iranians in Australia.
“I have invited Iranian officials to visit Australia as soon as possible so that we can continue the discussion and continue the positive steps we have taken today,” Ms Bishop said.
More than 20 per cent of asylum seekers held in immigration detention are from Iran, with thousands more living on bridging visas in the community waiting the outcome of their refugee claims.
Iran has so far refused to accept the forced return of asylum seekers.
Dr Zarif said Iran had agreed to continue talks and Iran’s ministry for foreign affairs spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, later confirmed officials would go to Australia.
Ms Afkham said Iran remained opposed to forced return of its citizens on principle, but did not wish to put an end to talks before they start.
Dr Zarif said the relationship with Australia had “ups and downs” but it was time to take the relationship to a higher level.
Ms Bishop was expected to meet Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, later on Saturday, followed by members of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
The Foreign Affairs Minister is setting a new tone for Australia’s ties with Iran, breaking with years of sour suspicions over Tehran’s nuclear program to emphasise “common purpose” in defeating Islamic State militants in Iraq. “I believed it was time for an Australian foreign minister to be in Iran,” she told reporters.
Her visit follows what has been seen as a potential breakthrough this month in nuclear talks between Iran and the major powers – and is a rarity for any Western politician.
“One of the most significant and vital issues to discuss is the situation in Iraq and our involvement there, and our common purpose with Iran in defeating Daesh,” Ms Bishop said – using the alternative name for Islamic State.
But the warming relations do not yet extend to lifting Australia’s sanctions on Iran – with a decision linked to wider United Nations sanctions and the outcome of nuclear talks after a framework agreement was struck this month ahead of a June 30 deadline for a final deal.
“The progress that has been made on the framework agreement will change a number of countries’ relationship with Iran in the coming months or years,” Ms Bishop said.
Ms Bishop said Australia and Iran had a chance to engage on education and trade.
But in response to criticism from Israel and with the US over the nuclear talks, she said the bottom line of any deal was Iran would not develop a nuclear weapon.
Ms Bishop elected to don a headscarf arriving in Tehran – a covering the local morality police force on all Iranian women.
To avoid any awkward moments, protocol also dictates Ms Bishop not extend a hand to shake when meeting male dignitaries.
Ms Bishop said wearing the scarf, which she also covered with a hat, was not an imposition.
“As a matter of fact I wear scarves and hats and headgear quite often as part of my everyday wear,” she said.
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