Obama would talk with Iran and Syria

Democratic candidate says region can't be stable unless enemies as well as friends join in dialogue.

Obama great 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Obama great 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said he would favor holding direct talks with Iran and Syria in a bid to stabilize the Middle East if elected president. In an interview with France's Paris Match on Thursday, Obama said: "I want to have direct talks with countries like Iran and Syria because I don't believe we can stabilize the region unless not just our friends but also our enemies are involved in these discussions." He was also quoted as saying he would also hold a summit with leaders of Muslim states to address the growing gap between the West and the world of Islam. The Illinois senator added that to repair the image of the United States in the world, he would "put an end to the war in Iraq." "Occupying the country has put the odds against us with the world," Obama said. Meanwhile, a visiting Iranian official said Thursday in Cairo that Iran and Egypt would work together to resolve the Middle East's top crises such as in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, and that both wanted to upgrade their diplomatic relations, severed nearly three decades ago. But the Egyptians did not comment on the remarks - as they hadn't on those the day before by the Iranian parliament speaker who said Egypt and Iran would soon restore full ties. Cairo's silence indicated that, despite the flurry of visiting Iranian officials and an apparent thaw between the two states, Egypt expects more than just words from Teheran. The North African Sunni state has always maintained that normal diplomatic relations would come only after the overwhelmingly Shi'ite Iran stopped meddling in the internal affairs of Arab countries. Teheran cut diplomatic ties after Cairo signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1979 and provided asylum for the deposed Iranian Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. Ali Akbar Natiqnouri, a top adviser to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamnei, spoke after a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday in Cairo. "It has been decided that we and Egypt will work together for more coordination on regional issues such Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine," Natiqnouri said. "Iran and Egypt are key regional nations and have too many things in common." In May, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered to restore ties with Egypt, a strong US ally. At the time, Ahmadinejad said his country was ready to open an embassy in Cairo as soon as Egypt agreed to do the same in Teheran. The Iranian president has since repeated his offer, most recently this month. But Egypt has also said that full diplomatic relations could only be restored if Iran takes down a large mural of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's assassin, Khaled el-Islambouli, and changes the name of a street honoring him. Islambouli was one of the army officers who killed Sadat during a military parade in 1981. Egypt executed him by firing squad soon thereafter. Several times over the last few years, Teheran has said it would change the street name, but the image of Islambouli shouting behind bars marked with a Star of David continues to loom down over the street bearing his name. Natiqnouri played down the mural issue, calling it "marginal."