Top-level Iranian officials in Burma

A delegation from Iran yesterday met with senior Burmese ministers, including foreign minister Nyan Win, in Burma’s secretive capital of Naypyidaw.

All eyes will be on the meeting following international concern about Burma’s military ambitions: the two countries were derided as “outposts of tyranny” in 2005 by then-US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, and both are now subject to tough Western sanctions that target their arms market.

Burma’s state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said today that the “goodwill delegation” from Iran included Tehran’s deputy foreign minister Mohammed Ali Fathollahi, although did not elaborate on what was discussed.

His Burmese counterpart, Maung Myint, made a similar visit to Iran in March this year, where according to the NAM news agency the two ministers “exchanged views on promotion of friendly relations between the two countries [and] further co-operation at the United Nations”. Maung Myint also called on Iran’s petroleum and commerce ministries.

A leaked UN report earlier this month named Iran and Burma as recipients of North Korean military equipment, exported in violation of a UN arms embargo on Pyongyang.

The three countries have seen their international trading potential thwarted in recent years as the Western community, led by the US, has promoted an isolationist policy in reaction to what it considers threatening signals from the pariahs.

Iran is apparently defying calls to halt its nuclear enrichment programme, while a five-year DVB investigation made public this month has shed light on Burma’s nuclear ambitions. North Korea carried out its second nuclear test in 2009, which resulted in a tightening of UN sanctions.

While military cooperation between Iran and Burma remains undocumented, the two countries belong to the 118-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), formed in 1961 to consolidate the group of nations that considered Western imperialist policies a threat to sovereignty.

Both are also the subject of keen Chinese economic interest, and thus have some level of political protection in the UN. China supplies Burma with the majority of its weapons, while Iran is a long-time recipient of Chinese fighter planes, tanks and missiles.

Iran was also a key player in the 1974 formation of the Asian Clearing Union (ACU), which provides a system for settling financial transactions among its eight member states which, along with Burma, includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

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