The Islamic Republic of Iran seeks to boost its relations with African countries, President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday in a meeting with Benin’s new ambassador to Tehran Naim Akibo. The Iranian president hailed growing ties between Iran and Benin and blamed world powers for instability and extremism engulfing the Middle East and Africa.

Separately, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif held a meeting with his Tunisian counterpart Khemaies Jhinaoui and the North African nation’s President Beiji Caid Essebsi. According to the Iranian media, Zarif told Essebsi that “Iran wants no ceiling in expansion of its ties with Tunisia.” The Tunisian president reportedly emphasized that his country is ready to expand its bilateral relations with the Islamic Republic. The Iranian top diplomat arrived in Tunis on Monday after visiting Mauritania and Algeria. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said the aim of Zarif’s trip to North Africa is to negotiate regional topics, including Syria and the latest disputes in the Persian Gulf.

Comment: In the past decade, the Islamic Republic has consistently sought to expand its influence in Africa. Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made significant efforts to expand Tehran’s relations with African nations to offset Iran’s increasing isolation by the West. While the Rouhani administration’s priority has been to improve Iran’s relations with the West, it has not forgotten Africa and sees it as an important region for Iran’s soft power and hard power strategies. In a meeting with his Sierra Leonean counterpart last month, Zarif stressed that Africa was of paramount significance for Iran in the political, economic and cultural terms.

By building closer ties with African countries, Tehran hopes to gain their support in the United Nations and other international and regional platforms. As Iran is seeking to become a major exporter of small arms, African countries could also be a lucrative market. In addition, Tehran may hope that its expanding ties with African countries would serve its naval expansion in the future.