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Senegal Ambassador Returns to Iran After Dispute Over Weapons

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade told his government to return the country’s ambassador to Tehran, five weeks after the official was recalled following a diplomatic dispute over a seized Iranian arms shipment.

Wade’s decision, detailed in minutes published on the government’s official website today, follows a 24-hour visit to Senegal by Iran’s interim foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi. The partial normalization of relations between the two Muslim nations was mediated by Turkish President Abdullah Gul, according to the minutes.

Iran plans to provide as much as $200 million dollars for joint economic projects between his country and Senegal, Salehi said yesterday in an interview with the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

Last month, Senegal’s Foreign Ministry withdrew the ambassador citing concern that a 13-container consignment of weapons seized by Nigerian customs officials may “deeply undermine the peace and security of the sub-region.” CMA CGM SA, the world’s third-largest container shipper, said Oct. 30 an Iranian company used one of its vessels to illegally transport the arms to Lagos after labeling them as “packages of glass, wool and pallets of stone.”

On Jan. 17, a United Nations mission traveled to Nigeria to begin investigating the origin and intended destination of the shipment, which included rockets, grenades and mortars.

Members of the Wade administration believe the weapons were meant to pass through neighboring Gambia, to be delivered to separatists in the southern Senegalese province of Casamance, Papa Dieng, a special adviser to the president, said in a Jan. 11 interview.

UN Sanctions

Trade and financial transactions with the Islamic Republic have been restricted after the UN approved a fourth round of sanctions last June in response to concerns that the Iranian government is attempting to build nuclear weapons.

In a 2009 meeting, Wade voiced support for Iran’s “struggle to contain the proliferation of nuclear weapons,” according to minutes posted on the government website. The country continues to support Iran’s nuclear project if it is purely for civilian purposes, Ndiaye said.

Iran Khodro, the country’s largest car manufacturer, maintains two plants outside of the Senegalese capital, Dakar, from which it seeks to export as many as 15,000 cars a year to as far as Nigeria, according to the company.

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