CAIRO — A decision by Egypt's new president to travel to Iran for a summit of the Nonaligned Movement this week reflects a major foreign policy shift for the Arab world's most populous nation after decades of subservience to Washington.
The visit by President Mohammed Morsi to Iran will be the first by an Egyptian leader since the nations broke off diplomatic relations in the 1980s following Egypt's recognition of Israel.
As the host nation, Iran is widely expected to use the gathering to strengthen tepid ties among 120 countries that will attend the summit and to decry what Tehran has portrayed as a heavy-handed and unfair crusade by the West to isolate the Islamic Republic over its controversial nuclear program.
The Nonaligned Movement comprises nations that don't belong to major blocs led by world powers. As Egypt's first Islamist president, and as a successor to a long tradition of military rule, Morsi has signaled an eagerness to extend Egypt's ties, particularly with fellow Muslim nations, a spokesman for Morsi told reporters Sunday.
"We need to establish relations with all countries worldwide," the spokesman, Yasser Ali, said. "We will turn more agile, more active. Egypt is a pivotal country, and we want to play the role Egypt deserves to play."
The Obama administration had sought to discourage countries from attending the Tehran summit, saying that to do so would undermine international efforts to isolate Iran over its nuclear program.
Even under President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt regularly took part in gatherings of the Nonaligned Movement, which take place every three years. Most countries don't send a head of state to the summit. Analysts described Morsi's trip to Iran as a clear sign that Egypt will no longer act as a U.S. lackey in the foreign policy realm, analysts said.
In the past, "Egypt could not move except with instructions from America and in a direction that benefited America's interests," Abdallah el-Ashaal, a former Egyptian deputy foreign minister, said. "Today Egypt does not require permission from Washington."