DUBAI / JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African President Jacob Zuma arrived in Iran on Sunday to strengthen political, trade and investment ties after crippling international sanctions against the Islamic Republic were lifted earlier this year, his office said.
South Africa is hoping to exploit a market hungry for investment as tens of billions of dollars worth of Iranian assets will now be unfrozen and global companies that have been barred from doing business there will benefit.
Iranian media said the two countries signed eight agreements on cooperation in areas including trade, industries, investments, agriculture, water resources and oil industry research and development. No details of the accords were given.
Iranian media also said the two countries called for strengthening intelligence cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
In opening remarks after his arrival, Zuma said various mechanisms had been discussed “to strengthen our political, trade, investment and economic, as well as people-to-people relations between our countries.”
“The lifting of nuclear-related sanctions against Iran provides immense potential for closer commercial and investment cooperation between South Africa and Iran,” the presidency said in a statement.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in remarks carried by state television that South Africa had supported Iran during its time under sanctions.
“Today, after the nuclear accords and the end of sanctions against Iran, there is a sharp competition between Asian and European countries for cooperation agreements with Iran, but we will never forget our close friends from the era of sanctions,” Rouhani said, referring to South Africa.
Pretoria is considering building an oil refinery that will process Iranian crude to bolster its petrol supply and reduce its dependence on foreign companies.
Iran has been frustrated that few trade deals have been implemented since the sanctions were lifted in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, as foreign banks still steer clear of processing transactions.
On April 15 Iran called on the United States and European Union to help it access the global financial system, but the White House said the nuclear deal did not include giving Tehran such access.
Zuma’s visit was the second South African state visit to Iran, the first having been undertaken by late president Nelson Mandela in 1999.
Reporting by Nqobile Dludla in Johannesburg and Dubai Newsroom,; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Raissa Kasolowsky