Iran's Ahmadinejad in Egypt on historic visit

Egypt

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Egypt on Tuesday on the first trip by an Iranian head of state since the 1979 revolution, underlining the thaw in relations since Egyptians elected an Islamist head of state.

President Mohamed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood politician elected in June, kissed Ahmadinejad as he disembarked from his plane at Cairo airport. The leaders walked down a red carpet, Ahmadinejad smiling as he shook hands with waiting dignitaries.

Visiting Cairo to attend an Islamic summit that begins on Wednesday, the president of the Shi'ite Islamist republic is due to meet later on Tuesday with the grand sheikh of al-Azhar, one of the oldest seats of learning in the Sunni world.

Such a visit would have been unthinkable during the rule of Hosni Mubarak, the military-backed autocrat who preserved Egypt's peace treaty with Israel during his 30 years in power and deepened ties between Cairo and the West.

"The political geography of the region will change if Iran and Egypt take a unified position on the Palestinian question," Ahmadinejad said in an interview with Al Mayadeen, a Beirut-based TV station, on the eve of his visit.

He said he wanted to visit the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian territory which neighbours Egypt to the east and is run by the Islamist movement Hamas. "If they allow it, I would go to Gaza to visit the people," Ahmadinejad said.

Analysts doubt that the historic changes that brought Mursi to power in Egypt will result in a full restoration of diplomatic ties between states whose relations were broken off after the Iranian revolution and the conclusion of Egypt's peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

OBSTACLES TO FULL TIES

At the airport the two leaders discussed ways of boosting relations between their countries and resolving the Syrian crisis "without resorting to military intervention", Egyptian state media reported.

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