(photo credit: AP [file])
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called on Teheran to play a role in establishing unity between the two main Palestinian rival groups Fatah and Hamas in a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in Egypt, an Iranian spokesman confirmed on Tuesday, clearing the haze over the meeting which had enraged the Prime Minister's Office in what it conceived as a step toward normalization between Fatah and Iran.
"In international forums, the opportunity for holding sideline talks between foreign ministers and officials of different countries happens naturally and the meeting between Mr. Erekat and Manouchehr Mottaki took place within the same framework," Teheran Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hassan Qashqavi was quoted as saying by Iran's FARS news agency.
Qashqavi reiterated that Mottaki's response to Erekat's request was that "Iran's support for solidarity among Palestinian groups is the perpetual strategy of the Islamic republic government," the FARS report continued.
On Sunday Erakat had played down the meeting with Mottaki in Sharm e-Sheikh, wondering what all the fuss was about.
"We saw each other, it was just a regular meeting," he said during an interview with Israel Radio, laughing off a suggestion that there was "normalization between Fatah and Iran."
He said he was dismayed that "two people shaking hands and meeting for 10 or 15 minutes" had made headlines.
A senior Palestinian official had told AFP that the Erekat-Mottaki meeting took place on Thursday.
The official claimed that it was the first such meeting since the PA was established in 1994.
"They discussed the internal Palestinian situation and the need for successful negotiations between Hamas and Fatah," he said.
The two also discussed "the need for a balance between Fatah and Hamas, the need for support of dialogue [between the two groups]... regional conditions and how to strike a balance in support between Hamas and Fatah," he added.
The Prime Minister's Office blasted Erekat for the meeting, saying it stands in stark contrast to the Palestinian refusal to negotiate with the Netanyahu government.
"The Palestinian side has refused to allow the resumption of peace talks by placing preconditions on such a resumption," said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's spokesman, Mark Regev, referring to the Palestinian demand that Israel declare a total settlement freeze and accept a two-state solution before negotiations can be renewed.
"It appears, however, that they have no qualms and place no preconditions upon dialogue with the most extreme and violent enemies of peace."
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.