May 22, 2007

Ahmadinejad Finds a Friend in Minsk

Combined Reports

Belta / Reuters
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad standing with Alexander Lukashenko during a welcoming ceremony in Minsk on Monday.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called President Alexander Lukashenko a close friend Monday, and Lukashenko returned the compliment by saying Belarus was "ready for cooperation in all directions."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with Lukashenko at the start of a two-day trip to Belarus that was to include the signing of a car deal, a tour of the national library and a visit with members of the Iranian Diaspora.

Ahmadinejad, who was greeted by an honor guard at Lukashenko's administrative headquarters, said stronger ties between Iran and Belarus would be good for global security.

"We have a huge potential [for cooperation] in the long term," Ahmadinejad said in televised comments, speaking through an interpreter. "The strengthening of relations between Belarus and Iran fosters support for regional and global security."

Ahmadinejad said he considered Lukashenko one of his best friends, the Belarussian leader's press service said.

Lukashenko told Ahmadinejad that "relations between Belarus and Iran have reached the level of strategic partnership," it said.

On Monday and Tuesday, Ahmadinejad planned to tour several Belarussian enterprises and the library, as well as meet Iranians living in Belarus.


Ahmadinejad was leading a delegation including the foreign and commerce ministers, lawmakers and the director of the Iran Khodro carmaker.

Iran Khodro was to sign a second-phase agreement with Belarus' Unison to produce its Samand model in Minsk, Iranian state television reported Monday. "The development of this site with the cooperation of Belarus' Unison will generate an income of $240 million per year, while employment also will be boosted," Iran Khodro managing director Manouchehr Manteqi was quoted as saying.

He said the assembly line would build 2,700 cars this year for export to Poland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and parts of Russia.

Other expected agreements were for the export of processed metals and agricultural machines to Iran and the import of Iranian fish and citrus fruit, the BelaPAN news agency reported.

Lukashenko visited Iran in November, and Ahmadinejad praised him at the time as a "brave and powerful" leader for opposing U.S. policies.

Iran is under United Nations Security Council sanctions over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, while Lukashenko and other Belarussian officials have been hit with U.S. and European Union travel bans and financial sanctions as punishment for strangling freedoms.

Belarus has close ties to Russia, but they have been frayed in recent years by disputes over energy prices and supplies.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday reiterated that the standoff over Iran's nuclear program should be resolved through dialogue, and that international efforts must focus only on preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

"We consider any attempts to isolate Tehran or to use the situation surrounding Iran's nuclear program to achieve any other goals ... to be extremely counterproductive and shortsighted," Lavrov said in Baku, Azerbaijan.

AP, MT

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