(AFP): Iran President Ebrahim Raisi held talks with his Kenyan counterpart William Ruto on Wednesday as he kicked off the first Africa tour by an Iranian leader in 11 years.
The visit, which was delayed by a day, comes as the Islamic republic tries to shore up diplomatic support to ease its international isolation, with Raisi also due to travel to Uganda and Zimbabwe this week.
In addition to meeting Ruto, Raisi will hold talks with his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni and Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Africa has emerged as a diplomatic battleground in recent months, with Russia and the West also trying to court support over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which has had a devastating economic impact on the continent, sending food prices soaring.
Western powers have also sought to deepen trade ties with the continent, along with India and China, which has been on an infrastructure spending spree in Africa.
According to Iran’s official IRNA news agency, Raisi is heading a delegation that includes the foreign minister as well as senior businesspeople.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani has described the three-day trip as “a new turning point” which could bolster economic and trade ties with African nations.
He also said on Monday that Tehran and the three African countries share “common political views”.
Iran has stepped up its diplomacy in recent months to reduce its isolation and offset the impact of crippling sanctions reimposed since the 2018 withdrawal of the United States from a painstakingly negotiated nuclear deal.
On Saturday, Raisi welcomed Algerian Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf in a bid to boost ties with Algiers.
Last week, Iran became a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which includes Russia, China and India.
In March, Tehran agreed to restore ties with regional rival Saudi Arabia under a China-mediated deal. It has since been looking to re-establish relations with other countries in the region including Egypt and Morocco.
In June, Raisi undertook a Latin American tour that included Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba before a trip to Indonesia.