HARARE — Zimbabwe’s government on Sunday denied a report in the British newspaper The Times that it had reached a secret uranium export deal with Iran.
The Times story published on Saturday quoted outgoing deputy minister of mines Gift Chimanikire that Zimbabwe signed a deal with Iran to supply the Islamic republic with the raw materials needed to develop a nuclear weapon.
But Mines and Mining Development Minister Obert Mpofu told AFP the report was “fiction”.
“That’s fiction because I have never been asked by the Iranian government or anyone from Iran for mining concessions,” Mr Mpofu said.
“They never applied for mining licences whether to mine uranium or any other mineral. The country is not mining uranium. If Chimanikire told the reporter about an agreement to export uranium to Iran maybe it was in a dream.” Zimbabwean police are looking for two Times journalists, Jan Raath and Jerome Starkey, who are wanted for “spreading falsehoods” in the uranium deal story, according to Zimbabwe’s state newspaper The Sunday Mail.
Mr Chimanikire could not be reached for comment but The Sunday Mail quoted him denying the story as “silly, speculative and dangerous”.
“No licence has been issued. I never said such a silly thing,” the paper quoted Mr Chimanikire as saying.
The US and the European Union (EU) have imposed crippling sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme, which Tehran insists is for peaceful energy uses but which the Western powers fear is intended to build an atomic bomb.
Zimbabwe is also subject to international sanctions over its human rights record and alleged election fraud. President Robert Mugabe, who won another five-year term in disputed polls last month, has publicly backed Iran’s nuclear drive.
During a visit to Harare in 2010 by then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mr Mugabe said his guest should be assured of “Zimbabwe’s continuous support of Iran’s just cause on the nuclear issue”.
A spokeswoman for News UK, Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper wing which publishes The Times, said the newspaper was aware of the report. But one of the two reporters, Mr Starkey, tweeted about the reported “manhunt” by Zimbabwean police.
When asked if he planned to add the event to his CV, he tweeted: “Let’s wait and see that it ends ok.” National police spokeswoman Charity Charamba claimed not to know about the search for the journalists.
“I have not heard about it. I only got a call from someone else who was inquiring,” she told AFP, saying she would have to look into it. Sapa-AFP