January 17, 2009
Eritrea-Iran Foreign Relations
Eritrea has publicly supported Iran’s nuclear program on several occasions. In June 2007, Eritrean President Isais Afwerki said that nuclear energy is Iran’s legal right. In an address to a conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in November 2007, Eritrea supported Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh claimed his government’s “support of the legal rights of all nations, developed or developing, to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes as enshrined in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).” In a May 2009 interview, President Afwerki criticized Western interference in Iran’s nuclear program “[i]f there are nuclear dangers and problems why they cannot be solved [sic] within the region, among the countries which feel the danger and the concerned party, if Iran has such intentions?” Following Iran’s warm reception for Eritrea’s new ambassador to Tehran in June 2009, President Afwerki stated his support of Iran’s nuclear program, saying, “Iran’s nuclear program is a source of pride for us and we support the country’s stand in this regard.”President Afwerki went on to say that the International Atomic Energy Agency and Western nations do not have the authority to interfere with Iran’s nuclear development.[Click here for more information on the Non-Aligned Movement.]
Eritrea and Iran have agreed to increase their economic, political and diplomatic cooperation. According to Eritrean president Isais Afwerki in July 2008, Eritrea is looking for “alternative trade partners” after the Eritrean-Ethiopian War (1998-2000) that strained Eritrean relations with the West. To this end, Eritrea signed trade and investment agreements with Iran in May 2008 and secured Iranian willingness to support energy and infrastructure development projects. The Eritrean government granted Iran exclusive control over the Eritrean Oil Refinery in December 2008 in exchange for Iranian upgrades to the facility. In April 2009, Iran, Algeria, and Eritrea agreed to expand their bilateral cooperation and encourage mutual investment.
Iran and Eritrea have agreed to increase their bilateral political relations. In May 2008, President Afwerki met with Iranian President Ahmadinejad in Tehran to bolster cooperation between the two states. The two agreed to cooperate in industry, agricultural, and regional and international issues. In October 2008, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in which they agreed to boost cultural, scientific, and education cooperation. In a May 2009 interview, President Afwerki said that Iranian-Eritrean relations “are relatively new” but “constructive.” Afwerki also denied rumors that Eritrea is hosting Iranian military bases or aiding Iranian arms smuggling to Palestinians, though at the time Iran reportedly had military forces in the Eritrean coastal city, Assab. Additional allegations surfaced in November 2009 regarding Iran’s use of Eritrean territory to transfer arms to Houthi factions in Yemen. Basher Esheq, an Eritrean Democratic Alliance official, stated that Iranian weapon shipments are delivered to Eritrean coastal towns en route to the Houthi rebels, a report that Iran denies.