MALAWI TO OPEN EMBASSY IN IRAN

C O N F I D E N T I A L LILONGWE 000224   SIPDIS   SIPDIS   DEPT FOR AF/S – E. PELLETREAU, INR – RITA BYRNES  USEUCOM PLEASE PASS TO USAFRICOM   E.O. 12958:

SUBJECT: MALAWI TO OPEN EMBASSY IN IRAN   REF: 07 LILONGWE 856   Classified By: DCM Kevin Sullivan for Reasons 1.4(b),(d)

(C) Summary: During a mid-April visit to Tehran, Foreign  Minister Joyce Banda announced that the GOM will open an  embassy in Iran to strengthen bilateral ties between the two  countries, contradicting her previous statements in private  to the Ambassador.  Deputy Foreign Minister Henri Mumba  publicly confirmed the plan to open an embassy, but  discounted Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reports that  President Mutharika would make a state visit to Iran.  IRNA  had also reported that Banda stated publicly in Tehran that  all propaganda campaigns against Iran were fabricated, and  that she personally had realized that existing realities in  the country differed from anti-Iran propaganda; Mumba could  not confirm her exact quotes.  The GOM maintains it will  primarily cooperate on agricultural, medical, and energy  projects.  Comment: Malawi continues to seek foreign  assistance from all available sources, but recent trends – discarding Taiwan for China, talks with Cuba about investment  in the Shire-Zambezi waterway, and the strengthening of  relations with Iran – are a bit worrisome.  As Mutharika  approaches a contentious May 2009 election, he seems to be  seeking out new contributors who might be less critical of  government diversion of funds for partisan ends or other  irregularities. End Summary.

(C) During her current visit to Iran, Foreign Minister  Joyce Banda announced that the government of Malawi will open  an embassy in Tehran.  This contradicted Banda’s previous  assurances to the Ambassador that the GOM was only interested  in increased aid flows from Iran and had no plans to  establish resident relations (reftel).  Deputy Foreign  Minister Henri Mumba confirmed the plan to open an embassy in  Tehran to the press, but he discounted IRNA reports that  President Mutharika would visit Iran, saying that the MFA was  not aware of any planned trips.  (Comment: The MFA is often  unaware of Mutharika’s plans, so this denial means little.  End Comment.)  Malawi has maintained relations with Iran  since the 1970s but has never established resident ties.

(C) IRNA also stated that FM Banda had criticized Western  “propaganda campaigns” against Iran, and she claimed that she  now realized that existing realities in the country differed  from anti-Iran propaganda.  Emboff sought confirmation of  these public remarks from  Mumba, but the Deputy Foreign  Minister did not return phone calls.  In press reports, the  GOM has maintained it will seek to increase cooperation  primarily in agricultural, medical, and energy projects.

(C) Comment: Malawi continues to seek foreign assistance  from all available sources, but the rhetoric attributed to FM  Banda, if true, is a slap against Malawi’s western donors.  The MFA has been unresponsive to recent demarches concerning  UN Security Council Resolutions on Iran, perhaps because of  this impending development. At the same time, Malawi’s recent  foreign initiatives including its recognition of mainland  China, discussions with Cuba about investment in the  Shire-Zambezi waterway, a visit last year by a Venezuelan  delegation, and this announcement in Iran represent a new and  somewhat adventurous trend by the hitherto-cautious Malawians, justified in its entirety by aid funding.  Mutharika has clearly embarked on a financially-motivated  policy path, perhaps wishing to expand the donor base by  seeking out new aid contributors who would be less  conditionality-minded and less critical of financial  pecadillos in govenment here.  We doubt any combination of  such non-traditional donors would be able to match the  contributions we and our European colleagues make to Malawi’s  well-being and development, and in the end these new foreign  entanglements may wind up costing Malawi some of the little  flexibility it has in foreign affairs.  End Comment.   EASTHAM

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