Egypt’s foreign minister says Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will visit Cairo this week, marking the first visit to Egypt by an Iranian leader in decades.
Even so, Mohammed Kamel Amr described Ahmadinejad’s visit as routine, since he will be attending a summit of the Organization of Islamic Conference in Cairo.
Iran and Egypt, both regional heavyweights, once had strong ties. Diplomatic relations deteriorated after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. Relations remained cold until Egypt’s 2011 uprising.
Officials in Cairo did not say Monday whether the Iranian leader would meet Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi during his visit. Morsi is from the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.
According to Reuters, Ahmedinejad, who rules as part of a Shiite theocracy, will meet with a top Sunni Muslim cleric at al-Azhar University as part of his trip.
Speaking to Iran’s Al Meyadeen TV Monday night, the Iranian leader said he would also visit Jerusalem to pray there, once it is completely liberated, Israel’s Channel 10 news reported. Ahmadinejad said he also hoped to visit the Gaza Strip.
He also said Israel’s recent air strike on Syria was a sign of weakness, saying that if there will be a war, Iran will support Damascus.
Iran is seen as one of Syria’s staunchest backers, though it reportedly refused to retaliate against Israel for a reported strike against military targets in Syria last week.
Iranian officials have threatened to hit back at Israel for the strike, which Israel has not admitted to, and to back up Syria in any confrontation with the West.
Though Egypt and Iran are not especially friendly, Ahmadinejad’s trip to Egypt could signal a thaw in relations.
Egypt does not have an embassy in Tehran, and bilateral relations were severed in 1980 following the Islamic revolution and Egypt’s signing of the Camp David Accords with Israel.
However, there have been signs of closer ties since deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak’s rule gave way to a more Islamist government in Cairo in 2011.
In 2012, Iran dispatched its first diplomat to the Egyptian capital in three decades. That summer, Morsi traveled to Tehran to deliver an address to a major meeting of the UN’s Non-Aligned Movement, though he ruffled some feathers by criticizing Syria. He also met with Ahmadinejad during that visit.
In her daily press briefing, US state Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called Ahmadinejad’s visit “an opportunity for the Egyptian Government to give him the same strong messages that the international community’s been giving about their nuclear behavior, about their terrorist behavior, et cetera.”