THE United States has warned Zimbabwe against selling uranium that could be used in a nuclear weapons programme to Iran saying any such deal would violate international law and lead to severe penalties.
“UN Security Council Resolution 1737 prohibits the sale or transfer of uranium to Iran, except for low-enriched uranium when it is incorporated into assembled nuclear fuel elements for light-water reactors,” a US State Department official told the UK-based Times newspaper on Monday.
“The Government of Zimbabwe is bound by its commitments to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and relevant legally binding UN Security Council resolutions.
“The United States is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We urge all countries to fully implement and enforce their obligations under multiple UN Security Council resolutions not to provide Iran with materials that could be used to develop a nuclear weapon.”
The warning followed a weekend report by the British newspaper claiming that Zimbabwe had agreed a secret uranium trade deal with Iran.
The claim was dismissed as wishful thinking by Mines Minister Obert Mpofu.
“We are free to trade with any country but my ministry has not signed an agreement about uranium with Tehran,” Mpofu said.
“It is fiction and usual wishful thinking of the Western media. Why would we have a secret deal when we are a free country?”
The Times had quoted deputy mining minister, Gift Chimanikire, as saying: “I have seen (a memorandum of understanding) to export uranium to the Iranians.”
Chimanikire admitted speaking to the newspaper but said his remarks had been “deliberately misrepresented” in a bid to “tarnish the country’s image”.
"It is a speculative and dangerous story. We have nothing to export because we have not mined," he said.
“We have no capacity to handle uranium as a country, and besides we don’t even know the quantity of uranium. We signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran, which covers various agreements in mineral trading such as diamonds, gold and other minerals.”
Zimbabwe sits on considerable mineral riches, including platinum, chrome, gold, diamond, and iron ore. But there is no estimate of uranium reserves.
The US and its allies imposed sanctions against Iran's energy and financial sectors to force the Islamic republic to stop its uranium enrichment activities over fears that Tehran might produce nuclear weapons.
Iranian authorities have, however, insisted that the nuclear program seeks to harness energy and is only for peaceful means.
Zimbabwe is also a target of Western sanctions, led by the US and European Union who accuse President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF party of electoral fraud and human rights failings.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Mail reported that police had launched a manhunt for the journalists responsible for the report - Jan Raath and Jerome Starkey - which officials said "could undermine Zimbabwe's foreign relations".
Starkey tweeted about the alleged “manhunt” by local police.
However, ZRP 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.