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Senegal's Breaking Ties With Iran Won't Affect Trade, Minister Says

  • Drew Hinshaw

Senegal's foreign affairs minister says the country's decision, yesterday, to break ties with Iran following an arms shipment scandal will affect aid - but not trade.

Against United Nations trade sanctions, the Islamic Republic of Iran ships $18 million worth of Iranian-made goods to Senegal each year, an amount 20 times larger than what it sold the West African nation just five years ago.

Those products include electronics, household goods, and parts for an automobile factory outside the capital, Dakar, where Iranian car maker Khodro hopes to make 15,000 cars a year.

But an investigation conducted by Senegal's army this month concluded that the country is also shipping guns, rockets, mortars, and bullets to Senegalese rebels fighting for independence of the province of Casamance.

Foreign Minister Madicke Niang said he was angered to find out Senegalese soldiers have been killed by bullets provided by what had been a close ally, when the country broke ties with Iran, yesterday.

But in an interview, Niang said commercial operations like international trade or Khodro's car factory will not be affected.

The car factory with the Iranians is a commercial affair which continues its course, he says. He says Senegal doesn't have any problem with it. He says Senegal is dealing with the subject of diplomatic relations, which doesn't mean that the factory is going to close its doors.

Analysts say Iran is looking to create closer trade ties with Africa as the country deals with a fourth round of sanctions ratified by the United Nations last year.

Foreign policy analyst Peter Pham says Iran has also increased aid to the continent as Tehran seeks international support to overturn those U.N. sanctions.

Pham, Vice President of New York City's Committee on American Foreign Policy, estimates that Iran has given as much as $2 billion in aid to the diplomatically isolated government of Gambia's Yaya Jammeh - Senegal's southern neighbor and a military coup leader long criticized for his human rights record.

Senegal, too benefitted from that aid. Before Senegal broke ties with Iran, the Persian Gulf nation was set to provide as much as $200 million in aid, much of it to Senegal's ailing electricity sector.

Senegal faces nightly blackouts that inspire protests in its capital city. Iran was prepared to build a 50 megawatt power plant to rectify that problem, and wanted to build roads, too.

But Niang says, while commerce will proceed, those projects are likely not going to happen.

If Iran is no longer on our side on our energy program we have other ways and other possibilities with other partners, he says. Senegal, he adds, is a country that practices a diversified cooperation. Each time we have a problem with one partner, we can go to another partner, he says.

In November, 2009, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade publicly endorsed Iran's nuclear posture, describing the nation as engaged in "a struggle to contain the proliferation of nuclear weapons." Iranian authorities insist the country's nuclear program is strictly for civilian purposes, but American and European leaders have accused the country of attempting to construct nuclear bombs.