EU tries to breathe life back into UN Syria talks

French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks to journalists as he arrives for the Informal Meeting of EU Foreign Affairs ministers (Gymnich) in Sofia on Feb. 15, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 16 February 2018

EU tries to breathe life back into UN Syria talks

SOFIA: The European Union on Thursday sought to revive stalled United Nations peace talks for Syria, worried by Russia’s efforts to legitimize the grip on power of its ally, President Bashar Assad.
The UN talks in Geneva have made little or no progress during seven years of the war, before hitting a deadlock last December. Moscow has been promoting alternative peace talks in Astana with Turkey, which supports rebel groups in Syria.
Armed interventions by Russia and Iran have allowed Assad to recapture large parts of the country but the UN says February has seen some of the worst fighting in Syria since violence erupted in March 2011.
Even so, EU foreign ministers in Bulgaria are holding their first full discussion about Syria in almost a year. “We’ll discuss how to mobilize humanitarian support but also how to use the convening power of the European Union to support the UN-led political process that is facing difficult moments in these weeks,” EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said.
Mogherini will host an international conference on Syria in Brussels in April, trying to support the ailing peace process and seeking more pledges of humanitarian aid — for Syrians in the country, as well as refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
The EU’s previous such event in 2017 got overshadowed by a chemical attack inside Syria. The conflict shows no signs of abating as powers in the region and beyond back rival forces in the proxy war. Now entering its eighth year, it has killed hundreds of thousands and driven millions from their homes.
“The tragedy continues,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters. “It is important for the Geneva process to restart as quickly as possible and that we are in a phase of political transition, which is not the case at the moment.”
The EU as a whole has played only a marginal role in efforts to resolve the conflict. It is trying, however, to leverage its status as the world’s largest aid donor to have more sway. It has said it will not pay to help rebuild Syria if Moscow and Damascus crush Assad’s opponent and ensure he holds on to power.
Assad’s forces have lately bombarded two of the last major rebel areas in Syria in Eastern Ghouta and the northwestern province of Idlib.
The disastrous humanitarian conditions in the besieged areas prompted the UN Security Council to discuss a month-long cease-fire to allow the delivery of aid and the evacuation of sick and wounded.
Luxembourg’s Jean Asselborn said the EU was supporting the Security Council draft resolution and added: “We have to be aware that nobody will solve this conflict with weapons ... we have to lead Syria into a transition.”


UK summons Iran envoy as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces return to jail

Updated 21 sec ago

UK summons Iran envoy as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces return to jail

  • Husband Richard Ratcliffe: Iran has ordered Nazanin to report to court for a new trial on Monday and then back to jail
  • Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab: Britain has made it clear to Iran “that is entirely unjustified and totally unacceptable and must not happen”

LONDON: Britain on Friday warned Iran against throwing detained woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe back in jail, after hauling in Tehran’s envoy for a dressing-down over her emotive case.
The Foreign Office summoned Ambassador Hamid Baeidinejad on Thursday to hear renewed demands from a senior official for an end to the British-Iranian captive’s “arbitrary detention.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told BBC radio Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in a “horrific position,” after her husband said Iran has ordered her to report to court for a new trial on Monday and then back to jail.
Britain has made it clear to Iran “that is entirely unjustified and totally unacceptable and must not happen,” Raab said.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who will turn 42 on Boxing Day, has been on temporary release from Tehran’s Evin prison and under house arrest since earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
She has spent more than four years in jail, or under house arrest, since being detained in the Iranian capital in April 2016 while visiting relatives with her young daughter.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation — the media organization’s philanthropic arm — denied charges of sedition but was convicted and jailed for five years.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has spent more than four years in jail, or under house arrest, since being detained in the Iranian capital in April 2016. (AFP)

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe said this week that the Foreign Office’s handling of the case “seems disastrous,” and that “the UK is dancing to Iran’s tune.”
Raab told the BBC: “We’ve made it very clear we want to try to put the relationship between the UK and Iran on a better footing.
“If Nazanin is returned to prison, that will of course put our discussions and the basis of those discussions in a totally different place. It is entirely unacceptable.”
Richard Ratcliffe linked the latest development to the postponement of a hearing that was due to take place on Tuesday in London to address Iran’s longstanding demand for the repayment by Britain of hundreds of millions from an old military equipment order.
“As Nazanin’s husband, I do think that if she’s not home for Christmas, there’s every chance this could run for years,” he said, accusing Iran of “hostage diplomacy.”