Egypt: We have to keep Teheran in check

FM spokesman: US dialogue with Iranians could be good if there are clear parameters, set timetable.

aboul gheit 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
aboul gheit 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
The new US administration's engagement with Iran could be a positive move as long as there are clear parameters and a timetable for negotiations, and as long as the concerns of Arab states like Egypt are kept in mind, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry representative said Wednesday. "We told them that this is a good step," spokesman Hossam Zaki told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday about US President Obama's decision to conduct talks with Iran. "Confrontation so far has had negative effects... but you have to know on what terms you are engaging and until when you are engaging. If you decide on these issues, then it is possibly a good move." While Iran is a regional power that shares a common Islamic heritage with the Arab world, their behavior "is subversive in many ways and we have to keep them in check," he said. On Wednesday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Egypt's view on the danger of nuclear weapons did not distinguish between Israeli capabilities and the dangers that the Iranian case could pose, especially if its program became one with military capability that threatened regional security. "Possession of any nuclear weapons in the Middle East is unacceptable by Egypt... particularly as the current confrontation between Iran and the West and Israel has consequences for the stability and peace in the region," he said, according to a statement released by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. Zaki was quoted by the Middle East News Agency this week as saying that Israel's nuclear abilities posed the first and greatest threat to the region. While everyone is interested in "the Iranian nuclear file," Egypt is more concerned with "Iran's performance" in the region, including their harsh stance toward peace in the Middle East, their occupation of three islands that belong to the United Arab Emirates, their "encouraging Hizbullah" in Lebanon, and their reported negative role in countries like Iraq and Yemen, he said. "This is something that worries us. We need America, when it engages with Iran, to have this fully in mind - their activities, the way they perceive things, the way they instigate here and there, their whole philosophy," he said. But Zaki argued that the best way to deal with Iran and to keep it in check was to "address all those sore points" in the region that are used to feed the harsh rhetoric and positions the country has been taking. One of these major sore points is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said. "They rely on the continuation of this conflict and rely on Israel's practices and actions toward the Palestinians in order to keep the confrontation going. They hide behind such issues," he said. "Israel should be ready to understand how peace in the Middle East and solving the Palestinian question would be quite an important opening in addressing problems like the Iranian problem." Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's main message to Obama when he meets with him later this month will be, "Achieve peace in the Middle East," Zaki said. "Our main focus is going to be that the US should work diligently, promptly, seriously with the parties in order to achieve peace as soon as possible," he said. "Everyone knows how much weight the US carries with Israel, with Arabs, with Palestinians," he said. "They [too] understand their own leverage." In addition, Egypt will be emphasizing the importance of its bilateral relationship with the United States to the stability of the region and establishing peace, he added.