Iran FM to visit Belarus: Officials

The Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is due to arrive in Belarus on Thursday for a two-day visit, officials said Wednesday, the second visit to the isolated ex-Soviet republic this summer by a high-level Iranian official.

Mottaki is expected to meet with his Belarusian counterpart, Sergei Martynov, and with the speaker of the lower parliament house, Vladimir Konoplyov, Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Popov said. He is not expected to meet with President Alexander Lukashenko, Popov said.

The governments of Iran and Belarus are both foes of the United States, and Lukashenko has courted other nations that are severely critical of the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.

Popov said talks during Mottaki's visit will focus on bilateral relations and "key issues on the world agenda."

Last month, Iran's industry minister inaugurated a new assembly plant for Iranian-designed cars during a four-day visit aimed to bolster ties.

The volume of trade between Belarus and Iran in the first half of 2006 dropped by 30 percent from the same period the previous year, to US$15.9 million (?12.4 million), according to the Foreign Ministry.

In July, Lukashenko played host to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a frequent and harsh critic of the United States.