Choice of Sharm for peace summit displays Egypt-Iran tensions

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CAIRO: Sharm El-Sheikh, long the destination of choice for package tourists and aspiring peace-makers alike, will play host to a high-level ministerial meeting on the future of Iraq from May 3-4.

The meeting will bring together Foreign Ministers from the United States, Iraq and its neighbors, Egypt, Bahrain and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

The meeting promises to be tense, and may be the first time that American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet with her Syrian and Iranian counterparts.

The bi-partisan Iraq Study Group, composed of senior American statesmen, urged such meetings in their December 2006 report, although little diplomatic headway between Washington, Tehran and Damascus has been made.

The Iraqi government hopes that the Sharm El-Sheikh summit will lead to more substantive discussions between the three and help to defuse tensions growing on each of its borders.

But far from easing tensions, the very choice of Sharm El-Sheikh as the summit venue has already caused strains among the participants.

Iran has objected to the choice of Egypt as the summit venue, and has said that if the conference is not held inside Iraq then it is not sure it will send a delegation to attend.

Iran has not yet decided and Tehran s decision regarding this conference will be announced in due course, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Reza Baqeri told the Fars news agency.

The Islamic Republic of Iran wants the conference to be held in Baghdad or one of the cities in that country but if the conference is to be held outside Iraq then they should get the agreement of all relevant parties, he added.

Baqeri has also insisted to Iranian media that no member of the Iranian delegation will meet one-on-one with Secretary Rice.

The tensions may stem from Iran’s fraught relationship with Egypt.

Iran’s relationship with Egypt has been on the rocks since the 1979 Islamic Revolution overthrew the Iranian monarchy. Iran’s king, the Shah, fled into exile in Egypt, where he spent the rest of his life. His body now lies in an ornate tomb inside the Mosque of Al Rifai in Al Qala’a Square, in the shadow of Cairo’s looming Citadel.

When former president Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David Accords, making peace with Israel, the Islamic Republic fully cut diplomatic relations with Egypt. After Sadat’s death, the Iranian regime named a Tehran street after his assassin.

Ties have improved in the quarter century since Camp David, but neither country has fully resumed diplomatic relations with the other.

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