EGYPT: Mubarak, on tour of Persian Gulf, may be carrying a secret message from Iran
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's sudden visit to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait saw the Arab-Iranian relations issue top the list of discussions with his fellow Arab heads of state.
The previously unannounced tour came one day after Mubarak met with Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani during the latter's visit to Cairo on Sunday.
During Larijani's visit, the first talks between top Egyptian and Iranian officials in over a year, Larijani handed Mubarak a message from the Iranian leadership. Egyptian sources said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was seeking to end tensions between his country and Egypt.
"The message is offering a new Iranian approach to resolve outstanding issues," said an anonymous source, following Larijani's talks with Mubarak.
Egyptian media later reported that Iran wants to reinstate normal ties with Egypt, relations that have been cut since 1979. It added that Egypt set the removal of a large mural of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's assassin from a street in Tehran as well as an end to Iran's interference in internal Arab affairs as two main conditions before restoring any formal relations.
Nonetheless, Ahmadinejad's proposal isn't just aimed at Tehran's affairs with Egypt. The Iranian hardliner wants Egypt to transmit his country's proposals to Persian Gulf kingdoms. Mubarak's trip began hours after meeting Larijani.
Mubarak's talks with Arab leaders have included ties with Iran as well as exploring ways to "avert the dangers of the Western-Iranian confrontation amid the escalation of the Islamic Republic's nuclear file," presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad said.
While Egypt and other Arab powers are in constant fear of Iran's nuclear aspirations and its desire to gain more influence over the region, Arab countries are also wary of the consequences in case the U.S. or Israel opt to take military action to halt Iran's nuclear plans.
Iran cut all official ties with Egypt since Sadat's signing of the Camp David peace treaty with Israel in 1979, before the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president granted asylum to the overthrown Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the wake of Iran's Islamic revolution.
The rift between the two countries further widened when Iran named a street in Tehran after Egyptian Islamist Khaled El Islambouli, the man accused of assassinating Sadat in 1981.
In late 2008, Tehran criticized the Egyptian regime for taking part in the Gaza blockade against Israel. Egypt countered that Iran was seeking more power in the region by supporting Palestinian movement Hamas and Hezbollah of Lebanon.
-- Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: President Hosni Mubarak, right, with Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani. Credit: Agence France-Presse