WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday warned Zimbabwe it could face international penalties if it helped Iran's nuclear program in defiance of U.N. sanctions and a global arms treaty.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Washington had taken note of comments that media reports attributed to Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi which called the broad sanctions on Iran "unfair and hypocritical."
"The foreign minister of Zimbabwe is entitled to his opinion, but the government of Zimbabwe is still bound by its commitments to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions," Crowley said.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is a vocal critic of Western nations and last year voiced support for Iran's nuclear program, which the United States and its allies believe is a cover for development of an atomic weapon.
Zimbabwean officials later denied reports they had signed a deal allowing Iran to mine untapped uranium reserves in the southern African nation.
Crowley said Iran was working to escape its economic isolation by courting "receptive governments such as Zimbabwe", but warned that all countries were bound by the U.N. Security Council decision on Iran sanctions.
"We are indicating our concern about the statements that suggest that Zimbabwe would be open to cooperating with Iran in ways that violate U.N. Security Council resolutions," Crowley said.
"There are potential international penalties. Although, obviously, Zimbabwe has its own issues with the international community, including the United States," Crowley said.
"That would be quite a match, for Iran and Zimbabwe to cooperate."
The United States, which has led the international effort to rein in Iran's nuclear program, has also accused Mugabe's government of human rights abuses and of rigging elections since 2000.
The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Zimbabwean state firms and travel restrictions on Mugabe and dozens of his associates after a violent 2000 election and at the start of sometimes violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms for black resettlement.