CAIRO – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tried Thursday to entice Egypt into a new alliance that could reshape the turbulent Middle East, speaking of forging comprehensive and unfettered relations after decades of distrust.
A warming of ties between the two regional heavyweights could have uncomfortable repercussions for the U.S. and its wealthy Gulf allies, giving Iran a foothold to spread its influence in Egypt. In turn, Egypt could gain an avenue to influence the fate of Syria, a key ally of Iran, as well as economic benefits.
The Iranian president arrived in Egypt on Tuesday to attend a two-day Islamic summit hosted by Egypt’s president, Islamist Mohammed Morsi.
Ahmadinejad’s visit is the first by an Iranian president in 30 years, and he used it to launch a charm offensive to woo Egyptians and their leadership. He offered to extend cash-strapped Egypt a credit line and investments. He said his government intended to lift visa requirements for Egyptian tourists and business executives and he gave a lengthy interview to state television.
In a 90-minute news conference Thursday, he went the furthest in trying to lure Egypt into a strategic alliance, using flowery language to project an image of two nations – which haven’t had diplomatic ties since 1979 – on the brink of an alliance that would bring them glory and prosperity.