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Iran and Egypt in landmark meeting

By Qin Zhongwei | China Daily | Updated: 2013-02-04 02:43

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will visit Cairo this week as the first Iranian head of state to travel to Egypt since Iran's revolution in 1979 soured ties.

Officials and analysts said the visit is a significant step in restoring Teheran-Cairo ties and an attempt to bring the views of the two most populous countries in the region closer.

Ahmadinejad will lead an Iranian delegation to attend a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Cairo, said Amani Mojtaba, head of Iran's Interest Section in Cairo, which it maintains in the absence of an official embassy.

Mojtaba added that he hoped relations could "return to full diplomatic level".

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said earlier that Ahmadinejad will arrive in Egypt on Wednesday to deliver a speech during the summit, which runs from Saturday to Thursday.

Khalid al-Said Ibrahim Amari, director of Egypt's Interests Section in Teheran, told the Persian service of the Islamic Republic News Agency that the exchanges of high-ranking Iranian and Egyptian officials "will play a significant role in promoting bilateral relations and bringing the views of the two Muslim countries closer together".

He said the meeting between Ahmadinejad and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, the leaders of the two most powerful and influential countries in the Muslim world and the Middle East, will discuss important regional and international issues as well as issues related to bilateral ties.

The relationship between Egypt and Iran was severed in 1980, after Iran's revolution and Egypt's signing of the 1978 Camp David Accord with Israel, according to Li Guofu, a senior research fellow on the Middle East at the China Institute of International Relations. Egypt also offered asylum to Iran's exiled Shah Reza Pahlavi while the two nations' ties were estranged.

Since Morsi's election last year, the two states have signaled a willingness to restore ties. And Morsi made a landmark visit to Iran in August by participating in the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Teheran, which was widely interpreted by observers as a move to further warm the ties, Li said.

"Since Morsi took office, he has aimed to play a more active role in regional affairs," Li said. "His foreign policy is more independent and is also different from his predecessor, who was considered more pro-US, which makes it possible to open a new page with Iran."

The OIC summit, though a multilateral occasion, offers a good chance and platform for the two sides to exchange ideas, Li added.

Hussein Ali, a top researcher at the International Center for Future and Strategic Studies, told Xinhua that "Iran is keen on restoring normal relations with Egypt due to Egypt's weight in the region", and it will expand its influence through normalizing ties with Egypt.

During Iranian Foreign Minister Salehi's second visit to Egypt in January, he handed to Morsi an invitation from Ahmadinejad to visit Teheran for a second time, and Salehi told reporters that "Iran's relations with Egypt improved" after Egypt's January 2011 uprising.

Saeed Sadek, a professor at the American University in Cairo, said "there is no trouble in Egypt and Iran restoring diplomatic relations". It will be an achievement if the two sides "restore diplomatic relations now", he said, according to Press TV.

But Sadek also warned that there still are obstacles inside Egypt, such as institutions and ruling elites remaining from the presidency of former ruler Hosni Mubarak that control the security services and the foreign ministry.

"So, all these things have an impact on how Egypt is going to go ahead in its foreign policy, especially with Iran," he added.

There are also disagreements over regional issues, such as the Syrian issue, and different attitudes toward Israel, experts said.

The OIC, established in 1969, is the second-largest inter-governmental organization in the world, with 57 member states spread over four continents, after the United Nations.

It will be the biggest international event that Morsi has hosted since being sworn in last year as the country's first elected leader. During the summit, Egypt will take over the organization's presidency for the next three years.

Reuters and Xinhua contributed to this story.

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