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Economy

Tehran rules out dragging Kenya into spat with US

Qasem Soleimani
Shiite Muslims hold pictures of slain top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani during a candle light vigil in Islamabad on January 8, 2020. PHOTO | AFP 

Tehran will not push Kenya into its diplomatic crossfire with Washington, the Iranian embassy in Nairobi has said, calming nerves of tea exporters.

Tehran has threatened to retaliate the killing of its top commander, General Qasem Soleimani, in a US drone attack six days ago, and experts have seen African countries like Kenya as easy targets.

“We will maintain even deeper and closer friendship with Kenya,” said Tohid Afzali, the head of the political department at the Iranian Embassy in Kenya in Nairobi, during a press briefing Wednesday.

The slain General headed Quds Force, the elite part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that the US has linked with the 2011 terrorist bombings in Turkey and Kenya. The Iranian embassy dismissed the claim as baseless.

Iran, traditionally a source of industrial oil, chemicals and carpets imports, is one of Kenya’s key markets that pays a premium price for local tea, something that has seen Nairobi conduct several trade missions in defence of the market. Nairobi has also been considering Iran for fish and beef exports.

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The Iranian diplomat said he was “hopeful” the conflict would not affect Kenya’s tea imports.

Tea is at present Kenya’s third-biggest foreign exchange earner after diaspora remittances and horticulture, bringing in Sh82.1 billion in the first nine months of 2019. Horticulture exports stood at Sh94.58 billion in the nine month-period while diaspora remittances were Sh214.4 billion.

Iran recalled its ambassador to Kenya early last year because of a court decision upholding sentences for two Iranians in jail, Foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said on Sunday, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency.

Iran also lodged a formal complaint with the Kenyan ambassador in Tehran because of the court decision in the case of Ahmad Abolfathi and Seyed Mansour Mousavi.

In 2016, a Kenyan judge reduced the life sentences given to the two Iranians convicted of planning bomb attacks to 15 years. The case raised concerns about possible Iranian plans to strike targets in Kenya.

The two were arrested in June 2012 and convicted a year later for planning attacks and possessing 15kg of military-grade RDX explosives. The men may have had links to the Quds Force, the elite extra-territorial special forces arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Kenyan investigators said. They were set to be freed before the Kenyan court upheld their sentences on Friday, Qassemi said.

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