US pressures allies in Africa over Iran, Russia links

Saturday July 29 2023
b nelson

Brian Nelson, the US Department of the Treasury's Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence during an interview at Tribe Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya on July 28,2023. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NMG


The US says its allies who entertain Iran and Russia are at a reputation risk, warning of potential isolation from lucrative deals.

The US Treasury’s Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson, who met and held talks with Kenya’s President William Ruto on Friday, warned its allies to be wary of the two countries' economic reputation.

He, however, was clear that by doing so, the US was not in any way interfering with the bilateral ties of either Kenya or any other country.

“But what we see is again of course Iran and Russia are isolated economically and either they are looking for partners and they are looking for new channels to have economic relationships,” said Nelson.

Read: Russia bid to reclaim African influence, tackle US dollar

 “From our perspective that potentially creates a reputation risk and creates also a financial risk such that we are having a direct conversation about those risks that are associated by the expansion of economic relationship, which is a conversation not only are we having here but frankly having with countries around the world and we know that clearly is what Russia and Iran are seeking.”


 “We are not going to provide a view on the bilateral relationship between Kenya and any other country in the world as that is for Kenya to decide” said Nelson in an interview with TheEastAfrican.

The Iranian leader Ebrahim Raisi toured Nairobi, Kampala and Harare earlier this month in his first trip to Africa since he was elected.

Read: Iran's president to visit Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe

But while he spoke of raising ties and trade, Iran is heavily sanctioned by the US over its nuclear programme. Those sanctions have made It difficult for Iran to do business freely including selling oil.

Russia too has been sanctioned for invading Ukraine last year in February.

The latest travel by US Under Secretary Nelson to Nairobi, Kenya and Mogadishu, Somalia was to underscore the US commitment to strengthening financial connections with Africa, fight against terrorism and money laundering.

Top on his agenda was the enhancement of partnerships to address regional security issues, with a focus on combating ISIS and al-Shabaab, to combat the illicit flow of funds and goods fuelling instability in the region.

Nelson, who was responding to the media as to whether the recent Iranian president visit to Kenya would jeopardise the relations between Kenya and the US further cautioned that Iran is known for harbouring terrorists and her allies should be wary of having close ties with Iran.

Recently, Washington is wary of Iranian-backed militia’s transfer of air defence weapons to eastern Syria, which likely will jeopardize the US-led International Coalition mission to defeat ISIS.

“For a long time, we have been very concerned about Al Shabaab activities in the region. We are taking a number of actions recently while in Mogadishu, Somalia we announced new sanctions on a senior ISIS-Somalia financier. This action demonstrates US support for our partners in their efforts to counter terrorist financing and strengthen national and regional security,” he explained.

Read: US sanctions ISIS chief financier in Somalia

Nelson’s comments on the Kenya-Iran relationship comes at a time when the Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi made a one-day State visit to Nairobi during which he was hosted by his Kenyan counterpart Ruto.

Raisi’ visit was initially delayed by a day after confusion marred his departure schedule.

President Raisi’s rare Africa tour is part of Iran’s latest diplomatic efforts to reduce the Islamic nation's isolation by forging new alliances, a move the US is wary about.

The two Heads of State signed five Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with the aim of strengthening the bilateral ties between the two nations.

His three-day trip to the continent which also included Uganda and Zimbabwe is the first by an Iranian President to Africa in 11 years.

It should be noted that Iran and the United States have had no formal diplomatic relations since April 7, 1980.

Iran expanded judicial cooperation with Syria, likely as part of a policy of building institutional links with regional allies, a move that does not sit well with the US.

CIA Director William Burns stated on July 20 that Russian technicians are assisting with the Iranian Space Launch Vehicle and missile program inside Iran.

Russian assistance could advance Iran’s development of inter-continental ballistic missiles and a military space program that would enhance Iran’s intelligence gathering capabilities.

However, only recently, Brics has invited Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to attend its 15th Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa in late August.

Nelson’s visit coincides with a recent cyber-attack on the Kenyan eCitizen portal, used by the public to access over 5,000 government services.

Read: Online services unavailable as Kenya grappled with cyberattack

This was after people complained for several days over difficulties accessing services on the portal, including, passport applications and renewal, the issuing e-visas for foreigners visiting the country, issuing driving licenses, identification cards and national health records.

“I had a chance to discuss the matter as the President Ruto mentioned about them. We talked about cyber security support and cyber resilience. Obviously, there are ways in which the US can support the security of financial systems in Kenya,” said Nelson.