20 November 2006

Zimbabwe: President Arrives in Iran for Visit

Tehran — President Mugabe arrived here yesterday for a four-day State visit that is expected to further cement relations between Zimbabwe and Iran.

The President, who left Harare yesterday morning, was accompanied by the First Lady, Amai Grace Mugabe, and senior Government officials.

He was met at Mehrabad International Airport in Teheran by the Iranian Minister of Co-operatives, Mr Abbasi.

Also in the welcoming party was Zimbabwe's Ambassador to Iran, Mr Stephen Chiketa, Foreign Affairs Minister Cde Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Agriculture Minister Cde Joseph Made, Mines and Mining Development Minister Cde Amos Midzi, Energy and Power Development Minister Cde Mike Nyambuya and senior embassy and Iranian government officials.

The President was then taken to a guest house.

He is expected to hold bilateral talks with his Iranian counterpart, Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, after which he will attend a state banquet hosted by the Iranian leader.

Tomorrow, Cde Mugabe will lay a wreath at the holy shrine of the late Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini. He will also pay a courtesy call on the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The President and his Iranian counterpart will later on witness the signing of bilateral agreements between the two countries.

Cde Mugabe will also meet African ambassadors in Teheran and Zimbabwe Embassy staff during his visit.

On Wednesday he will visit the town of Tabriz where he will tour a tractor manufacturing plant.

Some heads of parastatals, including ZBH chief executive Mr Henry Muradzikwa and Arda chief executive Mr Joseph Matowanyika, are also in Iran and they attended the Zimbabwe-Iran Joint Commission meeting with the ministers.

Zimbabwe and Iran enjoy good relations, which have in recent years continued to grow following Harare's adoption of a Look East Policy to promote economic co-operation with Asian countries and the Far East after the West slapped it with illegal sanctions.

President Mugabe's visit also comes in the wake of a proclamation he issued on Friday removing double taxation on goods being exported to either of the two countries.

The proclamation --- in a statutory instrument in last Friday's Government Gazette --- was in accordance with the Income Tax Act giving effect to the new arrangement.

It followed a Memorandum of Understanding signed in January last year between the then Acting Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Cde John Nkomo, and Iranian Minister of Co-operatives Mr Ali Souf at a ceremony at State House witnessed by President Mugabe and the then Iranian leader President Seyed Mohammad Khatami.

Several other agreements were signed on the day between the two countries.

The Statutory Instrument, which has a lifespan of six months by which Parliament should regularise it, exempts the two countries from double taxation and the exchange of information with respect to taxes on income and on capital.

It shows Zimbabwe's commitment to enhancing economic relations with Iran.

Foreign Minister Cde Simbarashe Mumbengegwi was already in Teheran to attend the fifth Zimbabwe-Iran Joint Commission.

The Joint Commission meeting will map out strategies to enhance co-operation in finance, mining, agriculture, energy and power, trade, health, transport and communication and security.

Mr Khatami was the last Iranian leader to visit Zimbabwe when he came to Harare for a three-day State visit last year in January.

At the end of the visit, the two countries signed agreements to co-operate in transport, power, telecommunications, agricultural equipment manufacturing.

Under the agreements, the two countries were to jointly construct the Chitungwiza-Harare railway line, the extension of Kariba Power Station and establishing a tractor manufacturing plant.

The Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce and the Iran-Africa Co-operation Council also signed an agreement for co-operation between the private sectors of the two countries.

The visit also comes at a time when both countries are under siege from the West --- Iran for its uranium enrichment programme and Zimbabwe for its land reform programme.

The United States and its western allies believe Iran's uranium enrichment programme is ultimately aimed at producing fissile material for nuclear weapons.

But Iran insists it will use the enriched uranium only to fuel nuclear power stations, something it is permitted to do as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Harare undertook agrarian reforms to empower the majority of its people and this courted the ire of Britain, the US and their western allies.

But Cde Mugabe and President Ahmadinejad have stood their grounds in defence of their governments' programmes and resisting foreign interference in the internal affairs of their countries.

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