NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited the uranium-rich West African nation of Niger on Tuesday, although officials discounted that the mineral was the reason for his visit.
Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou denied international speculation that Iran had come in search of uranium for its enrichment program, which Western powers suspect might aim to produce nuclear weapons.
“We have not brought up the question of Nigerien uranium. Iran itself being a producer of minerals,” Issoufou said.
Niger’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mohamed Bazoum added that Niger obeys international regulations on selling uranium, and it would not be legal to provide it to Iran.
The two-day stop in Niger is the second on Ahmadinejad’s trip to West Africa. He already has visited Benin and is due to visit Ghana before returning home.
The West has imposed several rounds of punishing sanctions on Iran in an effort to force the country to scale back its uranium enrichment program.
Iran has refused, insisting its program is for peaceful purposes, and says it has a right to enrich under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Ahmadinejad has said that the country does not need to buy uranium in Africa, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.
Last week, Iran announced two nuclear-related projects to expand capabilities to extract and process uranium.
Iran already has uranium mines and the ability to turn the raw ore into a material called yellowcake, which is the first step in the enrichment chain.
But the new facilities — expansion in the country’s largest uranium mine and processing facility — give Tehran greater access and control in making the raw materials for enrichment to nuclear fuel and, potentially, for warhead-grade material.
On Tuesday, he spoke of collaborating with Niger economically in ways unlike “colonialist countries who pillage countries’ riches.”
“We are ready to strengthen our relations with all states, and we believe that Niger has a good, detailed plan for doing it,” Ahmadinejad said.