NAIROBI (Reuters) -Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi received a red carpet welcome from Kenyan counterpart William Ruto on Wednesday as he began a three-country tour of Africa that Tehran has touted as a “new beginning” in relations with the continent.

Raisi’s trip to Africa, which will also take him to Uganda and Zimbabwe, is the first by an Iranian president in more than a decade, and represents a bid to diversify economic ties in the face of crippling U.S. sanctions.

Iran stepped up diplomatic outreach to developing world countries after then-U.S. President Donald Trump ditched a nuclear pact in 2018 and reimposed sanctions.

In June, Raisi visited three Latin American countries to shore up support with allies also saddled with U.S. sanctions.

Iranian and Kenyan ministers signed five memorandums of understanding on Wednesday related to information technology, fisheries, livestock products and investment promotion, the two governments announced.

At a press briefing after meeting Ruto, Raisi said he wanted to boost commercial ties with African countries.

“None of us are satisfied with the current volume of trade and the current economic exchange between countries,” he said.

Iran’s foreign ministry said on Saturday that it expects trade with African countries to increase to more than $2 billion this year, without providing a comparative figure for 2022.

Ruto said he had sought Raisi’s commitment to facilitate the export of more Kenyan tea, meat and other agricultural products to Iran and via Iran to Central Asian countries.

Raisi is expected to next fly to Uganda to discuss trade and bilateral relations with President Yoweri Museveni, and then to Zimbabwe.

The last Iranian leader to visit Africa was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2013.

(Writing by Bhargav Acharya and Hereward Holland; editing by Aaron Ross, Jason Neely and Alex Richardson)

Brought to you by