Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has tapped a career diplomat with extensive experience in Africa to lead Tehran’s diplomatic engagements in Nairobi.
Dr Jafar Barmaki served for long as director of the African Regional Organisation at the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He held the post for 26 years since 1994.
The appointment marks a diplomatic turning point for the two countries and signals Tehran’s desire to thaw relations with Nairobi, nearly a year after Iran's government recalled its top diplomat to Kenya.
Dr Barmaki, said he will prioritise trade and economy as he prepares to formally assume office after presenting his diplomatic credentials to President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“I will champion economic, cultural and social issues for the mutual benefit and interest of our two great countries,” Mr Barmaki told the Business Daily in an interview. The environmentalist is also Iran’s permanent representative to the UNEP and the UN Habitat in Nairobi.
Iran recalled its ambassador to Kenya early last year because of a court decision upholding jail sentences for two Iranians, foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said then, 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 extraterritorial Special Forces arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Kenyan investigators said.
Mr Barmaki embarks on his four- year call of duty to Kenya at a time Tehran has been keen to assure it will not push Kenya into its diplomatic crossfire with United States, calming nerves of tea exporters.