Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Cairo on Tuesday, marking the first visit to Egypt by an Iranian president since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, Egyptian television footage showed.
Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi gave Ahmadinejad a red-carpet welcome on the tarmac at Cairo airport, shaking the Iranian’s hand and exchanging a kiss on each cheek as a military honor guard stood at attention.
The two leaders then held a 20-minute talk that focused on the civil war in Syria, security officials said. Iran is a close ally of the regime in Damascus, while Egypt is among those that have called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down. The discussions were attended by the Egyptian president’s adviser, Essam al-Haddad, his spokesman Yasser Ali and a high level diplomat, the officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
The trip follows a visit by Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi to Iran in August last year, when the two leaders agreed to reopen official embassies.
Tehran broke off relations with Cairo in 1980, a year after both Iran’s revolution and Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel.
The trip is likely to be closely watched by Sunni Gulf nations, chief among them Saudi Arabia, who is staunchly opposed to Iran’s regional policies and deeply wary of the Shiite nation.
Egypt’s fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, has signaled that relations with Iran could one day be upgraded to full diplomatic ties. The president himself, however, has stressed that the security of the Sunni Gulf nations, of which Egypt has relied upon for financial aid to help prop up its faltering economy, is directly linked to Cairo’s own.
During his visit to Egypt, Ahmadinejad is scheduled to meet with Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s premier Islamic institution. He is also scheduled to attend the summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Cairo, which starts Wednesday.
Security officials said Ahmadinejad is also going to tour the Pyramids in Giza. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to release the information.