Cairo— President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled to Cairo on Tuesday, the first visit by an Iranian leader to Egypt since the two countries broke off diplomatic relations three decades ago and a barometer of the shifts in regional dynamics underway since the start of the Arab uprisings.
Relations between the two countries have warmed since the toppling of Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, who was deeply hostile to Iran’s leadership and portrayed himself to his allies, including the United States, the Persian Gulf monarchies and Israel, as a bulwark against Iranian influence.
Lately, though, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been promoting the idea that the recent Arab revolutions were inspired by the Iranian revolution of 1979. “Egypt is a very important country in the region and the Islamic Republic of Iran believes it is one of the heavyweights in the Middle East,” Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, told the state Islamic Republic News Agency in Munich on Tuesday. “We are ready to further strengthen ties.”
While the Egypt’s relations with Iran remains limited, the scene on the tarmac at the Cairo Airport on Tuesday — Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, greeting Mr. Ahmedinejad warmly in a red-carpet ceremony — would have been unimaginable under Mr. Mubarak, and seemed likely to alarm the Obama administration.
Mr. Morsi and Mr. Ahmadinejad discussed “developments in the regional arena,” including the war in Syria and “means of enhancing relations between Egypt and Iran,” according to Egypt’s state news agency. Mr. Ahmadinejad is in Egypt for a three-day visit to attend an Islamic summit.
Since becoming president in June as the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Morsi has framed his approach to foreign policy, including the thaw with Iran, as an effort to chart a more independent course than that of his predecessor and to reassert Egypt’s historical regional leadership role. Mr. Morsi has also tried to place Egypt at the center of negotiations to end the crisis in Syria.
In August, in another historic first, Mr. Morsi traveled to Tehran for the summit of the Nonaligned Movement, a visit that was seen as helping to ease Iran’s international isolation. Analysts say it is unlikely that Egypt and Iran will restore full ties, noting the pressure on Mr. Morsi to keep his distance from Iran, particularly from the United States and Egypt’s financial benefactors among the Persian Gulf monarchies.
During his visit to Tehran in August, Mr. Morsi embarrassed his hosts by delivering a stinging condemnation of their close ally, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, to the delight of allies like Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In further deference to the Saudis, he omitted mention of the Shiite-led uprising against Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy.
On Tuesday, Egypt’s foreign minister sought to deliver further reassurances, saying “the security of the Gulf states is the security of Egypt,” according the state news agency. In Cairo, the Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi said on Tuesday that the relationship with Egypt was “gradually improving,” according to Reuters. “We have to be a little patient,” he said.