Larijani in Egypt, seeking normalization

Rare visit by Iranian official aims to restore relations frozen since Egypt's treaty with Israel, signed 1979.

Larijani 224.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Larijani 224.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
A senior Iranian envoy held talks with Egyptian officials and religious leaders here on ways of restoring diplomatic ties, severed nearly thirty years ago over bilateral and regional disputes. Ali Larijani, head of Iran's powerful National Security Council, met with Grand Sheik Mohammed Seyed Tantawi and other officials of Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's prominent religious center. He also held talks with Amr Moussa, the head of the Cairo-based Arab League and was later to meet with Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. "So far, we are on a positive track," Larijani told reporters in Cairo. "The dialogue and the discussions are going on, but we should not be hasty." Ahead of their meeting, Aboul Gheit said he and Larijani would review the present "conditions" of Egyptian-Iranian relations, adding the two nations were "still discussing every aspect related to bilateral, regional and security issues." The statement reflected Aboul Gheit's cautiousness on restoring full diplomatic ties. Teheran cut diplomatic ties after Cairo signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1979 and provided asylum for the deposed Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Relations further deteriorated when Egypt backed Iraq during the 1980-1988 Gulf War. Since then, the two countries have had limited diplomatic contacts. The visit by Larijani, a close aide to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, came amid a thaw between the two Muslim powerhouses whose relations were frozen for 28 years. It also followed a visit earlier this month to Teheran by Egypt's deputy foreign minister, Hussein Darar, and a preceding visit to Cairo in September by Darar's counterpart, Abbas Araghchi. Larijani's four-day visit to Egypt ends Thursday. Iran's state IRNA news agency said Larijani on Tuesday met with Egypt's Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman. The two stressed the "need for further diplomatic, cultural and security cooperation due to the sensitive security situation in the region," IRNA said. In a speech 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. He reportedly repeated the offer Wednesday, according to Iran's English-language Press TV channel. "If Egypt announced its readiness, we would be prepared to reopen our embassy in Cairo today," the TV's Web site quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. But several issues still remain to be addressed before resuming diplomatic ties with Cairo, Ahmadinejad also said. Aboul Gheit has said that a resumption of ties could only take place if Iran takes down a large mural of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's assassin, Khaled el-Islambouli, and change the name of a street honoring him. El-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 el-Islambouli shouting behind bars marked with a Star of David continues to loom down over the street bearing his name.