Bishop, Iran discuss return of asylum seekers

EXCLUSIVE Andrew Probyn and Nick Butterly

Julie Bishop has begun high-level efforts to strike an agreement with the Iranian Government to repatriate its nationals whose refugee claims have been rejected by Australia.

The Foreign Affairs Minister told _The West Australian _ that she raised the involuntary return of boat people with her Iranian counterpart Mohammad Zarif in New York last month.

It is understood that Mr Zarif acknowledged that many Iranians arriving in Australia by boat were economic migrants with no genuine fear of persecution.

Ms Bishop will follow up her talks with Mr Zarif during a meeting with top-ranking Iranian diplomat Majid Bizmark at the Indian Ocean Rim Association meeting in Perth tomorrow.

Striking an arrangement with Tehran that would allow Iranians to be involuntarily sent home would be a major coup, given it has long eluded Australian governments of all political persuasions. Of the 6403 people in immigration detention, almost one-third - 1867 - are Iranian.

Though a large percentage of Iranian detainees have failed in their bid for protection visas, Australia has been unable to send them home because there is no diplomatic agreement in place to allow it.

In July, Ms Bishop's predecessor Bob Carr said Iranian arrivals were mostly middle class, from majority ethnic and religious groups and "motivated by economic factors and are not fleeing persecution".

Ms Bishop said she would use her meeting with Mr Bizmark to progress discussions she had with Mr Zarif in New York.

"During that meeting at the UN, I raised with Foreign Minister Zarif our concerns that we needed arrangements put in place for the involuntary return of illegal immigrants from Iran," she told _The West Australian _.

"It was agreed that the Iranian Government and the Australian Government would work together to discourage other Iranians from seeking to leave Iran."

It is believed Iran has indicated it could back a public information campaign in the country to discourage more asylum seekers heading to Australia.

Ms Bishop will also use the meeting to discuss people smuggling with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, who will be making his first trip to Perth for the event.

As well as addressing people smuggling, Ms Bishop will use the summit to reboot complex negotiations over selling uranium to India.

The Gillard government reversed the ban on uranium sales to India in 2011 but negotiations for a nuclear safeguard agreement have slowed.