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Iran FM Zarif postpones Turkey trip at last minute

Carlos Barria / Pool / AFP (file photo) | Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif postponed a visit to Turkey Tuesday, a Turkish official said, with mystery surrounding the reason for the last-minute cancellation. Zarif will instead head to Syria on Wednesday, his spokesperson said.

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The visit on Tuesday had been expected to touch on the Syria crisis, which has caused profound disagreements between Tehran and Ankara. Iran remains one of the last allies of Turkey's arch foe, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

"There has been a change in the programme," the Turkish foreign ministry official said, without giving any reason. Zarif had been due to meet Turkey's leaders in the capital Ankara on Tuesday.

Iran’s ISNA news agency quoted an Iranian Foreign Ministry official as saying the postponement was down to a scheduling issue and that the trip would happen at a later date.

“This visit is on the agenda but will take place at a later date because the schedules didn’t line up in this timeframe,” the official said.

However, the postponement of the visit came as Turkish opposition daily Cumhuriyet unexpectedly published a page-long article by Zarif containing a possible criticism of Turkish foreign policy.

The newspaper is known to oppose the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) policies, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeatedly locking horns with its editor-in-chief, Can Dundar.

In the piece published Tuesday, Zarif criticised US policies in the Middle East, and blamed the emergence of extremist groups including the Islamic State (IS) group on the US-led war in Iraq in 2003.

He wrote that the IS group was fed by the chaos and instability after the Iraqi invasion.

Veiled criticism

"Extremist elements found a convenient environment during the Syrian crisis with the support they received from individuals, organisations and governments in the region and turned into a giant structure in pursuit of fake causes and ideals," the minister wrote.

"Today, those elements are threatening even their own founders and supporters."

It was not clear if his comments were a veiled criticism of Turkey, which has been accused of failing to do enough to halt the rise of the IS group and even secretly colluding with them. Ankara vehemently denies the claims.

A NATO member, Ankara had long refused to participate actively in the anti-IS group operations led by the United States for fear of supporting the Kurdish fighters battling the jihadists on the border in Syria.

But it changed its position after a deadly bombing blamed on the IS group on July 20 in Suruc, a Turkish town opposite the Syrian flashpoint of Kobane, that left 32 people dead.

Last month Turkey agreed to open up a southern airbase to US and coalition forces for bombings against IS group militants.

Shiite Iran has urged overwhelmingly Sunni Turkey to respect Syria's sovereignty in its bombing of IS group targets.

In a telephone call with Erdogan last week, Iranian President Hassan Rohani suggested that Turkey should "coordinate" attacks with both Syrian and Iraqi governments.

In the article, Zarif also criticised US-led "Greater Middle East" project for preparing the ground for military interventions in the region.

Turkey was once considered a key actor in the initiative during the presidency of George W Bush, seen as a predominantly Muslim country with a working democracy.

Syria peace plan

Shortly after the news that Zarif’s Turkey trip had been postponed, his spokesperson Marzieh Afkham announced that the Iranian Foreign Minister would travel to Syria on Wednesday, following a scheduled visit to Lebanon later Tuesday.

Afkham said that while in Damascus Zarif will discuss details of a peace plan for Syria drawn up by Iran, which Tehran said last week would soon be presented to the United Nations.

Afkham said the plan was based on "respect for the Syrian people's legitimate right to reforms and to decide their own future".

It also rejected "using terrorism for political ends" as well as "foreign interference in the Syrian government's independent policies".

t will be Zarif's first visit to Damascus since Tehran signed a nuclear deal with world powers on July 14, and comes as part of a regional tour.

Zarif is also expected to visit Moscow next week, Tass news agency quoted the Iranian embassy as saying on Monday.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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