Kenya courts Iranian friendship

February 22, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 22- Kenya says its relationship with key allies the United States and Israel will not be soured by a looming visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

President Ahmadinejad, who is due in Nairobi on Tuesday, has been at logger heads with Israel over allegedly funding terrorist attacks on the Jewish state. His country is embroiled in another row with the US over a controversial nuclear programme which America claims is for military purposes.

But Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula said regardless of these issues, Kenya will pursue friendship with whichever country it pleases.

“Our friendship with country A is not to the exclusion of country B; every relationship has its unique factors and qualities. Our relationship with Iran is commercial,” Mr Wetangula said.

“As a country, never allow anybody to choose your friends or make your enemies because then you seize being a country,” he told a media briefing at his Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office.

Mr Wetangula said Kenya supports Iran’s nuclear programme so long as it is for energy purposes.

“Kenya, like all other countries, has no problems with advancement in the scientific field for the benefit of humanity including exploitation of nuclear technology for peaceful means. But when it comes to nuclear weapons then we have an opinion: we don’t believe that any country in the world, without exception, should possess nuclear weapons because they are unhelpful to advancing the course of humanity,” he said.

He said the first official visit by President Ahmadinejad will see various bilateral agreements signed in the energy, water and transportation sectors.

“The visit will be able to sign several Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in trade, (to avoid) double taxation, bilateral air services that will give an opportunity to national carrier Kenya Airways to fly to Tehran directly, we will also sign MoU on energy particularly oil as well as capacity building which will include availability of scholarships for post graduate training particularly in areas," he said.

Considering that the West has been consistently demonising Iran as a pariah state, Mr Wetangula said that Kenya has had a relationship with Iran stretching for more than 20 years.

Iran and Israel once had close ties, but they have been foes since the 1979 revolution that ousted Iran’s shah and installed an Islamic government. Iranian leaders routinely call for Israel’s destruction, while Israelis accuse Iran of supporting anti-Israel terrorists.

The visit by the Iranian leader will follow Turkey’s Abdullah Gul in a double-succession of top Middle Eastern visitors to Kenya that look more commercially minded than anything else.

A fact that Mr Wetangula attributes to Kenya’s rapidly growing status as the continent’s commercial and investment hub due to its position.

“We are the heart of Africa. We have an airline that traverses the ¾ of the capitals of the continent a lot of people want to invest here.”

Iran is one of leading importers of Kenyan tea and is also involved in major projects aimed at expanding Kenya’s energy and infrastructure sectors. These include areas such as construction work on a hydro-electric power plant along the Thika-Sagana road and a gas power plant near Mombasa which will add a further 20Mw to the national grid.

President Ahmadinejad, who will be paying his first official visit to Kenya, will be accompanied by a huge delegation of officials and private businessmen estimated at more than 100 people.

The invitation to the Iranian leader was extended personally by President Mwai Kibaki when the two held bilateral talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York last September.

According to the latest figures on the government website, the present value of Kenyan exports to Iran stands at $55 million (Sh4.2 billion).


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