15 April 2013

West Africa: Ahmadinejad in West Africa

While on a tour of West Africa, set to include unspecified bilateral deals, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been defending his country's controversial nuclear program.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tehran has no use for an atomic bomb.

He was speaking during a visit to Benin on Monday, the first stop on a three-nation West Africa tour, and called nuclear energy a "divine gift" providing affordable electricity.

Western powers suspect Tehran of covertly developing the capacity to produce a nuclear bomb. Iran denies this and says its nuclear program is for energy and medical purposes.

Last week, Iran unveiled a new uranium production facility and two mines, only days after talks with world powers on its nuclear programme again ended in deadlock.

Ahmadinejad, who arrived in Benin on Sunday night in his capacity as chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement of countries, left later on Monday to travel to neighboring Niger, one of the world's top producers of uranium.

Talks on energy, agriculture, education

Iran needs uranium for its nuclear programme, and Niger has recently criticized a longstanding agreement with France, which gets most of its uranium from the former colony, demanding a bigger share of the profits from uranium ore mining.

Ahmadinejad's previous visits to Africa were mostly to seek diplomatic support for Iran in the face of UN sanctions

In Niger, the Iranian president's visit was being welcomed by those who said the impoverished country should search for new partners for its uranium sales.

"We must from now on adhere to policies in our own interests, in selling our uranium to who we want, including Iran," Nouhou Arzika, a prominent civil society activist in Niger, told AFP.

Uranium from landlocked Niger is trucked to Benin ports for export, but Benin's foreign minister, Nassirou Araifari Bako, has insisted that uranium was not on the agenda for his Benin visit.

Talks in Benin were to focus particularly on energy, agriculture and education, Benin officials have said.

Ahmadinejad will travel to Ghana on Tuesday following his visit to Niger for the final leg of the tour.

"It is a big mistake we are making"

Some Ghanaians have misgivings about the Iranian president's visit. Professor Keith Blueway from the University of Education in Winneba, told DW's correspondent in Accra, Isaac Kaledzi, that it was a blunder. "It is a big mistake we are making. The Americans are watching, the British, the French, the Germans, they are all watching. They will watch every word we say, how we smile at him," he said.

But Ghanaian political analyst, Ben Ephson, sees little reason for concern. He said Ghana was basically non-aligned. Those who have problems with Ahmadinejad should "respect Ghana's decision" to "accept" him, he said.

Another Ghanaian who spoke to DW in Accra on Monday said that to suggest that Ahmadinejad's visit woud create "some kind of disaffection between us and the West, is, I think, out of place."

Iran's relations with African countries have not always been smooth.

A diplomatic dispute hurt ties between Iran and Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer, when weapons shipped from Iran were seized at a Lagos port in October 2010.

An alleged Iranian Revolutionary Guard member was accused of being one of the suspects behind the shipment, which Iran said was destined for Gambia, though Banjul denied being the intended recipient. The weapons had been labelled as building materials.

Ahmadinejad is due to leave office after elections in June.

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