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October 04, 2010

Iran Reacts Positively to Accord on Resuming Cairo-Tehran Flights

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman has given a cautious thumbs up to an accord between Tehran and Cairo, to resume direct flights between both capitals for the first time in close to 30 years.

A tentative deal to resume flights between Tehran and Cairo this week received an official word of approval Tuesday from Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast.

Cautious steps to improve ties between both countries, severed since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, have been dashed in recent years over fundamental foreign policy disagreements.

Mehmanparast noted that the weekend agreement was a "positive move towards normalizing ties" between both countries, but suggested that conditions were probably not ripe for resuming full diplomatic relations between Tehran and Cairo.

He says that internal Egyptian politics are very tense at the moment and that the Iranian side does not see Egypt making serious efforts to overhaul their foreign policy to improve ties with Tehran. For this reason, he argues Iran's foreign policy makers have no impetus to go out and push this issue, right now.

Former Egyptian foreign minister and Arab League chief Esmat Abdel Meguid says that he thought both countries want to improve ties and that they have many things in common.

"Certainly there is a mutual desire from both sides to see how this can work," he said. "So, I presume that there is here a positive move that should be encouraged. Both Iran and Egypt have many things in common and I presume that Egypt will act in a decent way-in a respected way-with Iran and vice versa. This is my opinion. But, I'm not sure about the reaction from the [various] other sides."

One major stumbling block over improved ties between the two countries has been Iran's support for the militant Palestinian Hamas group and Lebanon's Hezbollah. Egypt has close ties with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Iranian-born analyst Alex Vatanka of the Middle East Institute in Washington points out that both Iran and Egypt have repeatedly tried to improve ties, but that fundamental geopolitical differences continue to thwart those attempts:

"I think we've been here before," he said. "Actually, we've been closer to a resumption of diplomatic relations. In the last six months or so, we have had Tehran and Cairo-particularly the Iranians-publicizing the fact that relations were about to be normalized and then, what happens is somebody in the Iranian state machinery, or the Iranian government as a whole, will make a statement that will anger the Egyptians and then the Egyptians will walk away from the deal."

"Last time that happened was when [Iranian Foreign Minister] Manouchehr Mottaki's trip to Cairo was cancelled because of what Iran had to say about the Arab-Israeli conflict," he added.

Vatanka argues that he doesn't see Iran changing its foreign policy any time soon, and that its support for the Palestinian rejectionist camp puts it in direct conflict with Egypt, which is a top U.S. ally and supporter of a negotiated settlement with Israel.