Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will visit Nigeria this weekend as the West African nation assumes the rotating presidency of the United Nations' security council, an Iranian diplomat said on Thursday.
Ahmadinejad's visit to Nigeria comes after the leader made similar visits to Uganda and Zimbabwe in April, as the pariah Middle Eastern nation tries to build alliances against stronger UN sanctions over its nuclear program.
Khosrow Rezazadeh, Iran's ambassador to Nigeria, on Thursday confirmed Ahmadinejad's planned visit, but declined to offer further details. Nigeria's foreign ministry also declined to tell reporters about Ahmadinejad's plans, though his arrival comes as Nigeria's capital, Abuja, is scheduled to host a conference for a group of developing countries known as the D-8.
Nigeria took over the presidency of the UN security council on Thursday. As president, Nigeria's UN Ambassador Joy Ogwu will serve as the ceremonial head of the 15-member body. She also will be able to set the council's schedule and lead mediation on any crisis during Nigeria's monthlong tenure.
Nigeria last served on the security council in 1994-95. The UN put new sanctions in place against Iran in June over its nuclear program. Among the new restrictions, the sanctions freeze assets of new organizations linked to Iran's government, bans the nation from pursuing "any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons" and bars it from investing in uranium mining.
Ahmadinejad responded by vowing retaliation if Iran's ships are searched over suspicions that the cargo may violate the new sanctions.
Meanwhile, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom criticized Nigeria on Thursday for taking over the security council presidency while religious violence continues to plague the nation. Nigeria, a nation of 150 million, is split between the Christian-dominated south and Muslim north. Hundreds have died in central Nigeria this year alone in sectarian fighting. The bipartisan US government commission asked other members of the security council to pressure Nigeria into addressing the violence.
"Nigeria's own security and stability is put at risk by a culture of unchecked and unpunished sectarian violence that gives rise to divisiveness along religious lines and repeated reprisal attacks," commission chairman Leonard Leo said in a statement. "Nigeria has the ability to prosecute perpetrators of sectarian violence, but so far lacks political will and determination to actually do so."