Last updated: 26 August, 2012

Egypt defends Syria contact group that includes Iran

Egypt on Sunday defended its idea of forming a regional contact group on Syria which would include Iran, a staunch Damascus ally, insisting that Tehran could “be part of the solution” to the Syrian crisis.

President Mohamed Morsi proposed at this month’s Organisation of Islamic Cooperation summit in Mecca creating such a group made up of Egypt and Iran, as well as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, two countries supporting the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“If this group succeeds, Iran would be part of the solution and not the problem,” Morsi’s spokesman Yassir Ali told reporters.

“Solving the problem demands inviting all parties active in the region,” he said, noting that Tehran was an “influential partner” of Damascus.

Morsi will attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran on August 30 when he will pass the movement’s presidency from Egypt to Iran.

It will be the first visit by an Egyptian head of state since the two countries severed diplomatic relations more than 30 years ago.

Ali said that Morsi’s visit of “a few hours” would be dedicated solely to the summit.

“No other subject is expected,” he said when asked if the issue of resumption of diplomatic relations between Cairo and Tehran could be addressed.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, in comments reported in Egypt’s state-run Al-Ahram newspaper on Tuesday, said that Tehran was keen on establishing relations of “friendship and brotherhood” with Cairo.

“Egypt is the cornerstone of the region and has a special stature in the Arab and Muslim countries… and we want relations of friendship and brotherhood with it,” Salehi said, adding that Tehran hoped to restore “normal” ties with Cairo.

“We will pursue this path and restoration of relations depends only on protocol measures,” he said.

Iran cut ties with Egypt in 1980 after the Islamic revolution in protest against the 1979 peace accords between Egypt and Israel.

Iran and Israel are arch-foes in the Middle East, with the latter not ruling out the possibility of a military strike against Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme.

Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak regarded Iran as a destabilising factor in the Middle East.