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Egypt-Iran: an axis or bargaining chip?

Amidst the old familiar platitudes, one ‘action point’ stood out in the NAM summit in Tehran that is about to conclude later today — initiative on Syria. The details are yet to be unveiled, but the content is immaterial since it is going to be robustly contested anyway and may not endure. The big powers have their own axe to grind. 

But it is the form that matters here. Iranian FM Ali Akbar Salehi presented the tantalizing idea of a NAM group in the search of a settlement of the Syrian crisis. The group comprises the NAM’s past, present and future chairpersons – Egypt, Iran and Venezuela – plus Lebanon and Iraq. 
Clearly, this is one of those rare moments when a new “centre of gravity” is forming in the geopolitics of the Middle East region. It is an intriguing formation since Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi openly called for regime change in Syria, while Iran and Venezuela would be ambivalent about the very concept. But then, all three are agreed that the ‘transition’ should be a wholly Syrian-owned process without outside intervention. 
This is Iranian diplomacy at its best, showing mastery over the art of the possible. What matters infinitely more than everything else from the Iranian viewpoint is that Tehran and Cairo are sharing a regional platform on Syria. Both are OIC members while Egypt is also a member of the Arab League. The ‘regional consensus’ that the United States and Saudi Arabia struggled so hard to put together has been dispatched to oblivion.
Turkey’s Syrian debacle is becoming very serious. Egypt’s “entry” puts pressure on Saudi Arabia to change course. The Iranian media has given the impression that some sort of rapprochment between Tehran and Riyadh is on the cards. The restoration of Egypt’s relationship with Syria, equally, changes the calculus for Turkey. 
It is no small matter for Tehran that Morsi called Iran a “strategic partner” for Egypt. Even a commentary in the Voice of America admits that the symbolism of Morsi’s visit to Iran “has concerned countries trying to isolate Iran – in particular, Egypt’s longtime ally the United States.” The best spin VOA could give is that Morsi’s trip does not mean Egypt’s “full-fledged approval of Iran” and that the “apparent closeness could be a bargaining chip” in Egypt’s negotiations with the US. 

Posted in Diplomacy, Politics.

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