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Iranian president tries to entice Egypt into alliance

CAIRO — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tried Thursday to entice Egypt into a new alliance that could reshape the turbulent Middle East, speaking of forging "comprehensive" and "unfettered" relations after decades of distrust.

A warming of ties between the two regional heavyweights could have uncomfortable repercussions for the United States and its wealthy gulf allies, giving Iran a foothold to spread its influence in Egypt. In turn, Egypt could gain an avenue to influence the fate of Syria, a key ally of Iran, as well as economic benefits.

The Iranian president arrived in Egypt on Tuesday to attend a two-day Islamic summit hosted by Egypt's president, Islamist Mohammed Morsi.

Ahmadinejad's visit is the first by an Iranian president in 30 years and he used it to launch a charm offensive to woo Egyptians and their leadership. He offered to extend cash-strapped Egypt a credit line and investments. He said his government intended to lift visa requirements for Egyptian tourists and businessmen and he gave a lengthy interview to state television.

In a 90-minute news conference on Thursday, he went the farthest in trying to lure Egypt into a strategic alliance, using flowery language to project an image of two nations — which haven't had diplomatic ties since 1979 — on the brink of an alliance that would bring them glory and prosperity.

"It is a divine gift to me and the people of Iran that I received the opportunity to visit Egypt," he told the news conference, held at the residence of Iran's chief of mission in Egypt, an opulent mansion in Cairo's upscale Heliopolis district.

He said he expected the volume of bilateral trade to reach $20 billion annually a decade from now and anticipated that many of the8 to 10 million Iranians who holiday abroad every year will come to Egypt.

Iranian president tries to entice Egypt into alliance 02/07/13 [Last modified: Thursday, February 7, 2013 10:41pm]
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