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News number: 9106062244

09:30 | 2012-09-08

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Iran-Egypt Détente: Will Syria Get in the Way?

TEHRAN (FNA)- Iran and Egypt are moving fast toward restoring diplomatic relations. After 33 years of minimum diplomatic ties, Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi flew to Tehran on August 30 to attend the 16th Non-Aligned Movement Summit, becoming the first Egyptian president to visit Iran since President Anwar Sadat's last visit in1979.

During the historic Summit that was attended by top officials and high-ranking delegates from 120 countries, President Mursi and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proposed the formation of a committee grouping Egypt with key players Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to try to find a diplomatic settlement to the current conflict in Syria.

It was, however, during an extended address that Egypt's new president seemingly highlighted divisions and dashed such a hope with his harsh criticism of Syria - Iran's number-one ally in the region. Mursi said he came to the Tehran Summit to "announce our full and just support for a free, independent Syria that supports transition into a democratic system."

He then urged the Syrian opposition to unify - in effect advocating the overthrow of President Bashar Assad.

Clearly, Mursi's comments run counter to the official stance by Iran and the Non-Aligned Movement, which calls for internal dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition, as well as presidential elections in 2014. They also reject any military intervention and oppose unilateral sanctions by the West that are only aimed at punishing the Syrian people.

Away from the apparent inconsistency over Syria, optimism is still spread among many observers and analysts, who are confident that Mursi's visit to Tehran has at least helped thaw the ice between the two countries.

But this regional optimism is not shared by Western observers. They claim the Egyptian president cannot challenge the United States and the Persian Gulf countries, since they are strategic allies and he is in need of their support. They also argue that Washington and its regional allies will not be happy with improved relations between Tehran and Cairo.

In other words, it's not Syria, which might get in the way of rapprochement between Tehran and Cairo; rather, it's the United States and its regional allies who are not happy with this new development.

Therefore, it can be safely concluded that no matter how deep their differences are, Iran and Egypt will not interrupt their new diplomatic relations over the Syrian crisis. Quite the opposite, solving the crisis in Syria appears to be the top foreign policy objective - and a perfect reason for rapprochement - for both Cairo and Tehran. Two countries which have not been on speaking terms for over three decades now appear ready to let old disputes rest and help the Syrian people -hence dismissing Western claims that "complete restoration of diplomatic relations is not on the horizon."

To this end, and as mentioned earlier, Iran and Egypt have proposed a plan to end violence in Syria - a joint initiative with Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The initiative further highlights the recent climate of détente, also observed during the conference in Mecca, between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which had so far divided, among other things, on the Syrian crisis.

In other words, the gravity of the situation in Syria is finally leading all these once regional rivals to work closely for a solution - a measure of the changing dynamics within the region, also designed to protect the neighboring countries from the lava of the Syrian volcano.

The good news is that the Syrian government and the opposition also support the proposed plan. President Bashar Assad has even signaled his willingness to meet the representatives of the opposition for the purpose.

This clearly translates into the fact that greater cooperation between "two strategic partners" Iran and Egypt is inevitable, because it is in the best interests of the volatile region - where no politician can afford being blamed for the continuation of bloodshed in Syria.

It is, however, the future of Egypt's diplomatic relationship with Iran, which represents the real test for change in its foreign policy. In this sense, Mursi's visit to Tehran has been seen as a rebuff to the West and the beginning of a natural imperative/process for the creation of a new, active and independent Egyptian foreign policy.

The new policy is also welcomed by Egyptian people, who are already demanding a new foreign policy orientation, under which Egypt recognizes the important role of Iran in the region.

In the hindsight, the new détente between the two strategic partners is especially feared by Israel, because it would increase its isolation in the Middle East. In fact, it was during the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation meeting in Jeddah that President Mursi said the Syrian crisis should not detract attention from the Palestinian question, which is still the core issue for the Muslim world.

Such a sharp break from the past is equally welcomed by Tehran (a staunch advocate of the Palestinian cause), because it would further reduce Washington's self-serving influence - and its destructive meddling - in the region, particularly in occupied Palestine and Syria.

Under the circumstances and despite Western disapproval, it is self-evident that we should only expect more future cooperation - and less tension - between Iran and Egypt in their effort to similarly find a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian issue.