Raisi begins Africa trip with visit to Kenya. REUTERS./

 – Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi received red-carpet welcomes from his counterparts in Kenya and Uganda on Wednesday in launching a three-country tour of Africa that Tehran has touted as a “new beginning” in relations with the continent.

Raisi’s trip to Africa, which will also take him to Zimbabwe, is the first by an Iranian president in more than a decade and represents a bid to diversify Iran’s trade relations in the face of crippling U.S. sanctions.

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Iran stepped up diplomatic outreach to developing world countries after then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers in 2018 and reimposed sanctions.

Iranian and Kenyan ministers signed five memorandums of understanding on Wednesday related to information technology, fisheries, livestock products and investment promotion, the two governments announced.

At a press briefing after meeting Ruto, Raisi said he wanted to boost commercial ties with African countries.

“None of us are satisfied with the current volume of trade and the current economic exchange between countries,” he said.

Ruto said he had sought Raisi’s commitment to facilitate the export of more Kenyan tea, meat and other agricultural products to Iran and via Iran to Central Asian countries.

Later in the day in Uganda, Raisi signed four agreements with President Yoweri Museveni and said Iran stood ready to share its experience regarding a planned 60,000-barrel-per-day oil refinery.

Iran’s foreign ministry said on Saturday that it expects trade with African countries to increase to more than $2 billion this year, without providing a comparative figure for 2022.

Raisi has also visited three Latin American countries to shore up support with allies also saddled with U.S. sanctions.

The last presidentof the Islamic Republic to visit Africa was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2013.

(Writing by Bhargav Acharya and Hereward Holland; editing by Aaron Ross, Jason Neely, Alex Richardson and Mark Heinrich)

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