Iran's President Ahmadinejad Visits Zimbabwe
A communique issued by the Zimbabwe-Iran Joint Commission ahead of Ahmadinejad's arrival said ministers of the two nations noted their commitment to "the promotion of peace and stability in their respective regions" and welcomed Iran's proposals to host a nuclear international disarmament conference.
Iran has been under harsh criticism from Western nations for pressing ahead with uranium enrichment programs it says are to produce nuclear energy amid fears the militant Islamic state could develop nuclear weapons.
Iran is the biggest exhibitor at a trade exposition Ahmadinejad is scheduled to open in the second city of Bulawayo on Friday.
In Zimbabwe's ailing economy -- along with white-owned and foreign companies being forced under a new law to hand over 51 percent control to black Zimbabweans -- many traditional Western exhibitors and local industries have stayed away from the annual trade fair, once a showcase of regional goods and products.
Ahmadinejad is the first leader from outside the African continent to open the exposition since independence from British colonial era rule in 1980.
He is scheduled to visit an Iranian-funded textile firm in Harare later Thursday and a vehicle assembly plant. Mugabe will host a state dinner for the Iranian leader in the evening.
The communique by the joint commission which met Wednesday said in agricultural cooperation Iran proposed to assemble its models of tractors in Zimbabwe. The commission also agreed to set up a joint investment company to help develop industry, energy, mining, water management and social and financial services. Apart from a grant of $2 million to health services, no other amounts of funding were mentioned.
Zimbabwe's economy went into free fall after disruptions caused by the often violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms that began in 2000. After world record inflation, a yearlong coalition between Mugabe and the former opposition leader Prime Minister Moorage Tsvangirai abandoned the local currency, adopting hard currencies -- mostly the U.S. dollar -- for all purchases and transactions.
Food imports ended acute shortages of basic goods but many local industries closed down or ran at a fraction of their capacity.
The daily Herald newspaper, a mouthpiece of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, said Ahmadinejad's visit came after the West had declared Iran "an axis of evil" and Zimbabwe a pariah state and wanted to bully both nations using "the might of its weapons of mass destruction."
"The West's neocolonial agenda should only make us stronger," it said in an editorial comment.