Iran is expanding its covert global effort to obtain uranium, according to a new intelligence report from an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) member nation. The Associated Press reported that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly expressed interest in Zimbabwe's uranium supplies since visiting the country in April and meeting with President Robert Mugabe. Last month, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi met secretly with top Zimbabwean mining officials to resume negotiations dealing with Iran's uranium procurement plan.
According to a summary of the intelligence report, Salehi's meeting followed efforts by Iranian engineers to create a map of uranium deposits in Africa, along with the amounts they contain. The summary says that Iran seeks to get a foothold in African countries including Zimbabwe, Congo, Senegal and Nigeria. One potential site is located in the Kanyemba district of Zimbabwe, an area located about 150 miles north of Harare, the capital. The site is estimated to have 450,000 tons of uranium ore, which could produce 20,000 tons of enrichable uranium.
U.S. officials neither confirmed nor denied the report. Instead, they issued a warning against violating U.N. Security Council-passed sanctions on Iran.
"We know Iran is looking for countries that might be willing to violate the Security Council resolution to address its uranium shortage," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said. "We urge all countries to abide by their international commitments." Vietor was likely referring to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737, which bars "the supply, sale or transfer" of items that would contribute to Iran's uranium-enrichment efforts.
The London Sunday Telegraph reported that a senior aide to Mugabe visited Tehran last March to seal an agreement in which Iran would receive access to Zimbabwe's uranium ore in exchange for supplying oil to the African nation. A Zimbabwean government official said the deal was the product of more than three years worth of efforts that began with a 2007 visit to Iran by Mugabe.
Mugabe, who has an abysmal human-rights record, is not the only international pariah courted by Tehran in its search for uranium. Iran has also worked with strongman Hugo Chavez in an effort to gain access to Venezuelan uranium deposits.