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Belarus Opens Iranian Car Plant

MINSK, Belarus -- Iran's industry minister inaugurated a new assembly plant for Iranian-designed cars in Belarus on Friday, wrapping up a four-day visit to the isolated former Soviet republic and pledging to further bolster ties.

Ali Reza Tahmasebi said the plant's opening was "another step toward the strengthening of bilateral cooperation."

The plant will assemble up to 1,000 Iranian-designed Samands -- a model based on old French Peugeot designs -- by year's end, and up to 6,000 by next year.

Earlier this week, Tahmasebi invited Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko to travel to Tehran to meet with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

A pariah in the West for quashing dissent and for allegedly rigging his latest re-election in March, Lukashenko has sought to develop ties with nations that have strained relations with the West.

Last month, he played host to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a frequent and harsh critic of the United States.

During a meeting with Belarussian parliament speaker on Thursday, Tahmasebi said the Iranian government "intends to develop relations with friendly nations, with whom it shares common positions on all international issues."

Trade between Belarus and Iran stood at a modest $40 million last year, and Belarussian officials said they hoped to triple the figure.

"Belarus intends to expand cooperation with Iran in the field of machine-building," Belarussian Industry Minister Anatoly Rusetsky said during the car plant's opening on Friday.

(The Moscow Times 14.viii.06)

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