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Iran's Salehi to visit Turkey for talks on abducted pilgrims

Iranian Foreign Minister Salehi his Turkish counterpart 'at his own request' to discuss the Syrian crisis and the 48 Iranians kidnapped in Damascus

AFP , Tuesday 7 Aug 2012
Iran
Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Akbar Salehi (R) smiles during a meeting with his Tunisian counterpart Rafik Abdessalem in Tunis April 23, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)
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Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi will pay a snap visit to Turkey late Tuesday for talks on the Syrian crisis and 48 Iranians kidnapped there, officials said.

The Iranian foreign minister wanted to visit Turkey "at his own request," which was conveyed through diplomatic channels late Monday, a Turkish diplomat told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Salehi will hold talks with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara, with the Syria conflict topping the agenda, he added.

Turkey and Iran are at the opposite ends of the Syrian crisis. Ankara has been at the forefront of the international criticism against the Damascus regime's deadly response to the popular uprising, while Tehran is one of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's few allies.

The Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement quoted by the official news agency IRNA, that the situation of the pilgrims kidnapped in Damascus, which Tehran blames on Syrian rebel forces fighting the regime's loyalist troops, would be discussed.

"Considering that the Free Syrian Army -- which claims to have abducted the Iranian pilgrims -- is backed by Turkey, the visit by the foreign minister aims to warn and remind the Ankara government of its responsbilities in this matter," the ministry said.

The Iranians were taken hostage on Saturday as they travelled in a bus to the airport in Damascus. That was the single biggest abduction of Iranians since the start of the Syrian uprising in March last year.

Salehi telephoned his Turkish and Qatari counterparts, Davutoglu and Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabir Al Thani, on Saturday to request their assistance

And Davutoglu responded by promising "to study the issue and to carry out efforts as in previous cases," the Iranian media reported.

Tehran accuses both Ankara and Doha of arming the Syrian rebels.

In addition to taking in more than 45,000 Syrian refugees in several camps along its southern border provinces, Turkey is also providing sanctuary to members of the rebel forces made up of army defectors fighting the Assad regime.

But Turkey has repeatedly dismissed allegations that it is arming the rebels.

Salehi's brief visit to Turkey comes ahead of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's scheduled trip to Istanbul at the weekend.

On Tuesday, Iran said that it was holding the United States responsible for the lives of its citizens taken hostage in Syria, following an unconfirmed report by a Syrian rebel group that three of them had been killed by shelling.

The upcoming summit of the Non-Aligned Movement which Tehran is hosting is also expected to be discussed by Salehi and Davutoglu.

Iran has invited the leaders of Russia, Turkey and the United Nations to the meeting on August 30-31 but Turkey has not yet given a response.

The NAM groups 120 countries which consider themselves not formally part of the world's major power blocs.

Neither Russia nor Turkey are members, though Moscow has observer status.

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