US warns Zimbabwe over Iran nuke cooperation

AP News
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Posted: Mar 08, 2011 2:47 PM
US warns Zimbabwe over Iran nuke cooperation

The Obama administration warned Zimbabwe on Monday that it could face penalties if it cooperates with Iran's nuclear program in violation of U.N. resolutions.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. was troubled by recent statements from Zimbabwe's foreign minister that United Nations sanctions on Iran are unfair and hypocritical. He said Zimbabwe would be violating its international obligations and U.N. Security Council resolutions if it helped Iran extract uranium.

"We are concerned by statements that would suggest that Zimbabwe would be open to cooperating with Iran in ways that violate U.N. Security Council resolutions," he told reporters.

"The foreign minister of Zimbabwe is entitled to his opinion but the government of Zimbabwe is still bound by its commitments to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions," Crowley said. "There are ramifications for countries that decline to observe their international obligations."

He said the U.S. did not have independent confirmation of such cooperation but was concerned by statements indicating that Zimbabwe would be open to it. The U.N. atomic watchdog said last month that Iran's foreign minister made a secret visit to Zimbabwe in January in search of uranium.

Crowley said Iran's outreach to Zimbabwe was part of the country's attempt "to escape its growing isolation by offering to bolster trade and other economic ties with receptive governments."

He noted that both Iran and Zimbabwe have been harshly criticized for human rights abuses and quipped that "it would quite a match for Zimbabwe and Iran to cooperate" on uranium mining.

In late February, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi met with senior Zimbabwean mining officials "to resume negotiations ... for the benefit of Iran's uranium procurement plan."

The report came as an Iranian delegation led by the head of the Cooperative Ministry Abbas Johari was meeting with "agriculture and mining interests" in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare.

Iran says it is enriching solely to power a future network of nuclear reactors. But it has been targeted by U.N. sanctions because enrichment can also create fissile warhead material _ and because of its nuclear secrecy and refusal to cooperate with IAEA probes into its activities.