AP: Iran granted Belarus greater access to oil reserves as the leaders of the countries, both at odds with the United States, met Monday to cement what the Belarusian president called a “strategic partnership.” Associated Press
By YURAS KARMANAU
Associated Press Writer
MINSK, Belarus (AP) – Iran granted Belarus greater access to oil reserves as the leaders of the countries, both at odds with the United States, met Monday to cement what the Belarusian president called a “strategic partnership.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at the start of a two-day visit to this former Soviet republic, hailed the “huge potential” for cooperation between the two nations.
“The strengthening of relations between Belarus and Iran fosters support for regional and global security,” Ahmadinejad said in televised comments.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said his country is “ready for cooperation in all directions.”
“Relations between Belarus and Iran have reached the level of strategic partnership,” he said, according to the presidential press service.
Underscoring that partnership, Iran granted Belarus long-discussed access to the Jofeir oil field, which sits near the border with Iraq and could produce up to 30,000 barrels a day once operational, according to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.
The two sides also “emphasized the necessity of developing mutual cooperation in different sectors of the oil-gas industry, creating an oil-refinery facility, developing oil and gas fields, and building an underground natural gas storage facility in Iran,” according to a joint statement released after the two leaders met.
Lukashenko said the crude from Jofeir would be either be refined in Iran or simply extracted by Belarus and sold on world markets.
“Our specialists have researched (the field) and are prepared today to extract oil on Iranian territory,” he said.
Ahmadinejad is the latest world leader to visit Lukashenko, an authoritarian ruler who has been courting other vehement opponents of the United States. A year ago, Lukashenko hosted Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, another vocal U.S. critic who also leads a country with substantial oil and gas reserves.
Lukashenko is widely referred to in the West as “Europe’s last dictator” for quashing opposition and independent media in Belarus, where the largely Soviet-style state-controlled economy is heavily reliant on cheap Russian energy supplies.
In recent months, Moscow has drastically increased prices and tightened shipment conditions for oil and gas exports to Belarus, pinching the economy.
Lukashenko visited Iran in November, where Ahmadinejad praised the Belarusian as a “brave and powerful” leader for opposing U.S. policies.
A hard-liner who became president in 2005, Ahmadinejad is locked in a standoff with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program, which the United States and other nations fear is a front for an effort to develop atomic weapons.
Iran is under U.N. Security Council sanctions over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, while Lukashenko and other Belarusian officials have been hit with U.S. and European Union travel bans and financial sanctions for strangling freedoms.
Both Ahmadinejad and Lukashenko also appeared to take a swipe at the United States.
“We hold the opinion that there should be a balance of power … in the world,” Ahmadinejad said. “We state our opposition to a unipolar world and to any country’s effort to exert influence on another.”
During his visit, Ahmadinejad was expected to tour Belarusian enterprises and a national library. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said last week that the main issues to be discussed during the visit concerned energy, trade and science.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated Monday that the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program should be resolved through dialogue.
“We consider any attempts to isolate Tehran or to use the situation surrounding Iran’s nuclear program to achieve any other goals … to be extremely counterproductive and shortsighted,” Lavrov said in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Russia has used its clout in the U.N. Security Council to water down Western-proposed sanctions against Iran and has warned the United States that overly harsh measures could backfire by deepening Tehran’s defiance.
Also Monday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said his country was leading the world’s nations in confronting the United States. Khamenei, a cleric who has final say over all state matters, said Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution sent global shock waves by producing a country willing to challenge the U.S.
“The Islamic system (of Iran) detonated a powerful bomb in the world of politics, which was thousands-fold stronger than the bomb detonated by the U.S. in Hiroshima,” Iranian state TV quoted him as saying.
Khamenei’s comments came a week before U.S. and Iranian ambassadors are to meet in Baghdad to discuss the security situation in Iraq, providing one more reason to question whether the talks will be productive.
Associated Press Writer Nasser Karimi contributed to this report from Tehran.