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Ahmadinejad: First Iranian leader to visit Cairo in more than 30 years

By Al Arabiya with Reuters | 05 Feb 2013

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Cairo Tuesday to attend the Islamic Solidarity Organization conference, a step that marks the first visit of an Iranian president to Egypt in 34 years.

President Mohamed Mursi kissed Ahmadinejad as he disembarked from his plane at Cairo airport, footage broadcast by Egyptian state television showed.

On the sidelines of the summit, Ahmadinejad will also meet Al Azhar’s Grand Imam Ahmad el Tayyeb, head of Egypt’s leading Sunni Islamic institute.

Ahmadinejad in Cairo is the first for an Iranian president since the 1979 Iranian revolution ruptured diplomatic ties between the two most populous countries in the Middle East.

Such a visit would have been unthinkable during the rule of Hosni Mubarak, the military-backed autocrat whose 30 years in power safeguarded Egypt's peace treaty with Israel and resulted in deeper ties between Cairo and the West.

The Iranian leader has expressed his desire to also visit Gaza while in Cairo.

Asked in an interview on the Al Mayadeen news channel whether he would travel to the Palestinian territory, he said: “If they allow it, I would go to Gaza to visit the people”, without saying whose authority he would seek, as Iran does not recognize Israel.

“My wish is bigger than this. I wish to pray in Jerusalem for complete liberation,” Ahmadinejad added.

With Egypt trying to reshape its foreign policy after it’s 2011 uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak, Gulf States have expressed concern over Egypt’s close ties with Iran during Mursi’s reign.

Referring to these fears, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said on Monday “Egypt’s bilateral relations with any country would not come at the expense of Gulf security,” reported the daily Egypt Independent.

Amr ensured Ahmadinejad will participate in the two-day summit kicking off on Wednesday, just like any other head of state.

“Developing Egypt-Iran relations is left to circumstances,” Amr asserted, as quoted by the Egyptian daily.