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Zimbabwe Signs Fuel Deal With Iran


Zimbabwe's state press agency says President Robert Mugabe has secured a fuel deal with Iran during his state visit to Tehran this week. For VOA, Peta Thornycroft reports from Harare that Zimbabwe's state fuel supplier continues to be desperately short of fuel because the country lacks foreign currency for essential imports.

Mr. Mugabe has returned to Zimbabwe and says he has secured a pledge from Iran for its technicians to investigate whether it is possible to resuscitate the country's only oil refinery. The refinery, in Zimbabwe's eastern border town Mutare, was forced to close almost 40 years ago, when the world imposed trade and diplomatic sanctions against the then white ruled Rhodesia.

The refinery was built to process imported Iranian crude oil.

Now Zimbabwe depends on imported refined fuel, which it mainly gets by road from South Africa.

It says it has insufficient foreign currency to import fuel in bulk and pump a minimum of 30,000 liters at a time along a pipeline from nearest port, Beira in Mozambique to Zimbabwe.

Mr. Mugabe said during his visit to Tehran he has also secured several other agreements for direct aid and Iranian assistance with energy, education technology and agricultural projects, but no details have been revealed either in Harare or Tehran. Zimbabwe has also said it will allow Iran to explore unspecified mineral deposits in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's energy and power development minister, Mike Nyambuya, said the Iranians made a number of proposals to meet Zimbabwe's needs in fuel and oil products, which were welcome.

Mr. Mugabe was hailed as a hero in Tehran for his anti-West stance. The Iranian president said, "We are going to stand side by side with the government and people of Zimbabwe."

Iran is one of the countries Mugabe has been warming to as part of the "Look East" policy, partly forced by Zimbabwe's isolation from the West over controversial land reforms and allegedly fraud-marred elections in 2000 and 2002.

Mr. Mugabe claims that Western sanctions have brought Zimbabwe's economy to its knees.

The United States and the European Union have refused to issue travel visas to Mr. Mugabe and leaders in the ruling Zanu PF party, but trade between Zimbabwe and the west continues normally. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has branded Zimbabwe and Iran as among the world's "outposts of tyranny."

Zimbabwe's economy began collapsing after the commercial agricultural sector, which provided 40 percent of annual foreign exchange, was decimated during the past six years.

Since 2000, Mr. Mugabe took more than 4,000 white-owned commercial farms and gave them to members of the ruling elite and landless peasants.

Agricultural economists say statistics show that Zimbabwe's farming production has slumped to a fifth of what it was prior to the land seizures.

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