Iranian president arrives in Zimbabwe to anti-West songs

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, center, inspects the guard of honour upon his arrival at Robert Mugabe airport in Harare, Zimbabwe, Thursday, July 13, 2023. Iran's president is on a rare visit to Africa as the country, which is under heavy U.S. economic sanctions, seeks to deepen partnerships around the world. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
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HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi was welcomed in Zimbabwe on Thursday by people singing songs criticizing the West as he made his last stop on a three-nation Africa trip aimed at finding new trade alliances to soften the impact of U.S. sanctions on his nation.

Raisi was greeted at Harare’s international airport by Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa and dozens of supporters waving Zimbabwe and Iran flags and holding placards with Raisi’s image.

Both countries are under U.S. sanctions and Raisi’s trip to Africa, which has already included stops in Kenya and Uganda, highlights Iran’s efforts to counter those heavy economic punishments.

Iran and Zimbabwe already have a joint permanent commission on political and trade relations and officials on Thursday signed 12 new memorandums of understanding, including agreements on agriculture, pharmaceuticals, telecoms, gas, energy and education.

Iran also signed agreements with Kenya and Uganda on Wednesday.

“Our cooperation with Zimbabwe and our cooperation with the African continent, which is a continent full of potential, could help us for mutual advances,” Raisi said in translated comments in Zimbabwe.

Raisi has recently reached out to other nations struggling under U.S. sanctions, including on his first visit to Latin America last month, when he went to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.

“It is critically important that we, the victims of Western sanctions, are talking to each other,” Mnangagwa said. “The authors of these sanctions would not want us to talk to each other. But because we are both victims it is equally important that we show them that we are united.”

Iran has been subjected to a new bout of sanctions by the United States for allegedly supplying Russia with drones that have been used to devastating effect in the war in Ukraine.

The U.S. and European Union sanctions on Zimbabwe go back 20 years and are largely due to allegations of human rights abuses under former president Robert Mugabe. Some of those EU sanctions are being eased.

Iran and Zimbabwe also share historical ties and Mnangagwa thanked Raisi for Iran’s help in a liberation war in the 1970s that eventually led to the southern African nation breaking free of white minority rule.

“When we went to war, Iran was our friend. I am happy you have come to show solidarity,” Mnangagwa said earlier in brief remarks on the tarmac at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport named after the late Zimbabwean leader Mnangagwa helped oust in a coup in 2017.

At the airport, supporters sang songs criticizing the West as “white masters” intent on interfering in Zimbabwe and Raisi inspected an honor guard by Zimbabwe’s military.

On his visit to Uganda on Wednesday, Raisi sharply criticized Western nations’ support for homosexuality and LGBTQ+ rights, calling it “one of the dirtiest things.” He said Uganda’s recently-passed anti-gay legislation and Western criticism of it was “another area of cooperation for Iran and Uganda.”

Zimbabwe also has anti-gay laws, and homosexuality and same-sex marriages are illegal.

However, Mnangagwa has not attacked homosexuality, unlike his predecessor, the late Mugabe, who described gays as “worse than dogs and pigs.”

The last visit by an Iranian leader to Zimbabwe was in 2010 by then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.