Sweeping Drive to Uplift Ties With S. Africa, Uganda, Niger

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) met South African President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria on Oct. 23.Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) met South African President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria on Oct. 23.

A diplomat said the recent tour of African nations by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the third such visit in the last four years, indicates Iran's determination to put promotion of wide-ranging ties with the continent on top of its agenda.

"To establish consistent political relations with Africa, it is essential to develop strong economic interactions and this has been seriously pursued on our part regarding Africa nations," Fars News Agency quoted Foreign Ministry's Director General of Africa Department Mehdi Aqa-Jafari as telling reporters on Sunday.

On the first leg of his African tour, Zarif arrived in South Africa on Oct. 22 at the head of a high-ranking politico-economic delegation. In Pretoria, he attended a trade forum and took part in the 13th meeting of Iran-South Africa Economic Commission.

In the next stage, Zarif visited Uganda where he attended the Iran-Uganda Business Forum, met with high-ranking officials and opened a jointly-run medical center there.

On the last leg of the tour, the top diplomat traveled to Niger on Thursday and held talks with senior officials, including Nigerien president, prime minister and foreign minister.

Aqa-Jafari said Africa has always had a special place in Iran's foreign relations after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, adding that the recent trip had extra significance for the ministry as it coincided with the year in which economy has been given top priority in the Foreign Ministry's agenda.

Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has named the current Iranian year, which started on March 21, after "Economy of Resistance: Production and Employment," calling for greater efforts to expand the economy after the implementation of the 2015 Iran nuclear accord that lifted international sanctions on the country.

Aqa-Jafari said that in line with the designation, the Foreign Ministry has been assigned with the task of facilitating export and transferring know-how, among other things, in the realm of economy.

Resistance Economy refers to a series of measures to make Iran more resilient and less sensitive to external shocks such as sanctions.

  Economy-Oriented Diplomacy

Zarif, who spent a great part of his first four-year term to resolve Iran's nuclear issue, is now implementing structural changes in his ministry and setting up a new economic department that would pursue "an economy-oriented diplomacy".

"To meet the ministry's objective in this regard, a strong economic delegation, representing both private and public sectors, accompanied the foreign minister," Aqa-Jafari said.

The diplomat added that another issue discussed during Zarif's tour of African nations was "the fight against terrorism and extremism".

In his meeting with Nigerian President Mahamadou Issoufou, Zarif underlined the need for broadening mutual cooperation in anti-terror campaign.

"There is a need for enhancing political cooperation between Iran and Niger on fighting terrorism," he said during the meeting.

The scourge of terrorism in Niger has recently been highlighted in the media after four US soldiers were killed earlier this month by terrorists.

Iran has also warned in the past against the African Continent becoming the next safe haven for terrorists affiliated with the self-styled Islamic State terror group that has suffered major territorial losses in Iraq and Syria.

"Terrorism is not bound to any border and is one of the gravest threats facing today's world," Aqa-Jafari said, adding that there were "positive talks" about Iran sharing its experience of fighting terrorism.

  Rouhani to Visit Africa

Aqa-Jafari said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is planning to visit the African Continent by the end of the current Iranian year (March 20, 2018).

"Arrangements for holding joint commissions with the countries, which will probably be visited by the president, are currently underway," he said, adding that Iran's accession to BRICS, proposed by South African President Jacob Zuma during his last year's trip to Iran, would also be one of the issues on the agenda.

BRICS is the acronym for an association of five major emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The bloc has met annually at formal summits, with China hosting the last summit on Sept. 3.

"We are also holding consultations in this regard with other members of BRICS," Aqa-Jafari said.

Joining the bloc would pave the way for Iran to substantially increase its international ties, especially with African powerhouse South Africa.

Iran and South Africa have set a $2 billion target for non-oil trade.  


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