CAIRO // The Egyptian and Iranian foreign ministers have met three times this week, signalling a thaw in the tense relations between the two nations, Egyptian and Iranian diplomats said yesterday. Formal diplomatic ties were severed in 1979 when Egypt signed a peace deal with Israel. Although Iran has been looking to improve relations, Egypt accuses Tehran of meddling in Arab conflicts and refuses to renew formal ties until Iran ends its support for militants in Iraq, Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and the Palestinian group Hamas.
An Iranian diplomat said this week's talks between the Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, took place in "a positive and cordial atmosphere". An Egyptian diplomat confirmed the men had met three times since Mr Mottaki arrived in Egypt on Sunday for a summit of the Non-aligned Movement. The summit begins on Wednesday in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik. Both diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to make public statements.
On Sunday, Aboul Gheit's spokesman Hossam Zaki said the two countries have had their differences but expressed hope that they could work together for "stability in the region". As the meetings took place, Egypt confirmed that two Israeli warships had crossed through the Egyptian-controlled Suez Canal - the latest signal to Iran that Israel's reach could quickly extend to its archenemy's backyard. The Suez Canal is a strategic waterway linking the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, and use of the canal could significantly shorten the time it would take Israeli ships to reach waters off Iran.
Israel believes Iran is developing nuclear weapons and has refused to rule out the use of force to stop Tehran's atomic programme. Iran said its nuclear programme is peaceful and designed only to produce electricity. Aboul Gheit rejected suggestions that the Israeli manoeuvre was co-ordinated with Egypt as a veiled threat against Iran. In addition to demands that Iran should stop its interference, Cairo wants Tehran change the name of a street honouring former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's assassin, Khaled el-Islambouli.