Egypt and Iran will hold a round of talks in the coming days aimed at restoring full diplomatic relations. The rapprochement was apparently made possible by the recent thaw between the United States and Iran.
According to sources in Egypt, Cairo's Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, is expected to meet with his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, to discuss opening embassies in Tehran and Cairo.
Last week, Aboul Gheit sent Mottaki a message saying Egypt was willing to talk about restoring relations with Iran. The message was sent in response to a statement by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said that "should Egypt signal that it wants to restore relations, we would be willing to open an embassy in Cairo the very next day."
The current drive to renew relations, which were severed in 1979 following the Islamic revolution in Iran, apparently results from the recent thaw between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic. The two foes have been engaged in contact in recent months after Washington's decision to include the Iranians in talks on Iraq's future.
"The idea of renewing relations with Iran had surfaced twice before, in 2000 and 2004," an Egyptian source told Haaretz. "We never followed through because of American pressure. But now the U.S. is itself engaging in direct contact with the Iranians, so no one can argue now that renewing relations is an anti-American motion."
Should the U.S. frown on the contacts between Cairo and Tehran, Egypt could point to Saudi Arabia, a very close ally of the U.S., which has recently signed a cooperation treaty with the Iranians.
The Iranians hope that restoring relations with Egypt would help brand them a legitimate member of the region. Ties would also help ease the international pressure on Iran.
Iran is seen as spearheading the Arab Shi'ites. Egypt, by contrast, is the predominately Sunni leader of the Arab world. Relations between the two countries could help Iran pacify its Sunni neighbors, who are currently deeply suspicious of Tehran.
The renewal would also signal that Iran does not regard Egypt's peace with Israel as a reason not to engage in diplomatic contacts. According to an article in Britain's Arabic-language Elaph newspaper, the Egyptian foreign Ministry has recently commissioned ex perts to give their opinion on the possibility of renewing diplomatic relations with Iran. The experts concluded that the renewal was of utmost importance.
The experts based their opinion on Egypt's traditional role as a regional leader, adding that Egypt must take steps to make sure its standing is not compromised by the confrontation between Iran and the West.
The experts referred to concerns - primarily in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan - that the American confrontation with Iran is making it more strategically important than the moderate Arab nations. This is complemented by Iran's incipient nuclear weapons program.
The scholars said the Arab nations must engage in diplomatic relations with Iran because it might become a hostile force in the future. One of the experts added that restoring relations would allow Egypt to involve Iran in dialogue on the Palestinian issue and on Lebanon.
Egypt and Iran have partial relations, and trade relations. Egypt is demanding that Iran ban portraits of Khaled Eslamboli, who assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. Iran has already agreed in 2004 to change the name of a Tehran street which was named after Eslamboli.
Yoav Stern contributed to this report.
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