Egypt's (missed) chance in nuclear
diplomacy By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
NEW YORK - Egypt is about to miss a golden
opportunity to enhance its stature in global
diplomacy, which has presented itself in the form
of Iran's suggestion of Cairo as the venue for the
next round of multilateral nuclear negotiations.
Despite unconfirmed reports that Cairo has turned
a cold shoulder to this idea, it is still not too
late for the embattled government of Mohammed
Morsi to embrace it, thus gaining diplomatic and
Although the European
Union has reacted negatively to Tehran's
suggestion, depicting it as a "delay tactic",
Cairo can still be the host city for the next
round between Iran and the "5+1" nations (the UN
Security Council's permanent five members plus
Germany) only if Morsi, who is grappling with
political tensions at
home, nods positively.
The prospect of Cairo turning for a few
days into a focus of global attention with respect
to an important issue involving big powers and
regional diplomacy can be a timely diversion for
the Egyptian government that is trying to assert
its independent role in global affairs.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi
on Monday said the West was to blame for the
hold-up. He had insisted last week that Egyptian
officials welcomed the proposal, made despite
continuing unrest in Egypt that led Morsi to
decree emergency rule in Port Said, Ismailia and
Suez on January 27.
Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday that Iran
and the West should agree on where to hold the
talks on Tehran's nuclear program, which were
supposed to take place this month.
think the essence of our talks is far more
important than the atmosphere of any given town,"
Lavrov said at a news conference. "We hope that
common sense will prevail, and we will stop being
capricious like little children."
According to London-based Arabic paper
Asharq Al-Awsat, quoting an unnamed Egyptian
official, Cairo still hasn't decided about the
issue, somewhat contradicting Salehi's statement.
Yet, Tehran is still not convinced that the idea
is "dead in the water", and government officials
are still hopeful that Morsi and his foreign
policy team will soon announce their readiness to
host the Iran nuclear talk, as a sign of Egypt's
maturity and heavyweight role in regional affairs.
The issue is a delicate one and contains
multiple dimensions, such as Iran's push for
normalization of relations with Egypt, or Cairo's
balancing act in its relations with its financial
backers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
states, principally Saudi Arabia, which is why
officially Cairo has so far opted for silence in
reaction to Iran's public suggestion.
"Hosting the talks, as was the case last
year with Turkey and Iraq, carries certain
prestige and political advantages, and
incidentally that is why Iran is not in favor of
Istanbul any more because of Turkey's aggressive
role against Syria, and Egyptian officials should
know that on the whole this would be beneficial
rather than harmful to their interests," said a
Tehran University political science professor who
spoke to the author on the condition of anonymity.
Despite their differences over Syria,
clearly manifested at last August's summit of the
Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran, where the visiting
Morsi lambasted the government of Bashar al-Assad
in Syria, Tehran and Cairo nevertheless have a
great deal in common that dictates a "twin pillar"
strategy in the Middle East aimed at tackling the
region's plethora of peace and conflict issues
and Iran, new twin pillars, Asia Times Online,
September 1, 2012).
For sure, much like
last year's Baghdad talks, a Cairo round will
carry positive implications for Tehran, reflecting
a greater regional depth and (at least implicitly)
garnering Egyptian sympathy for Iran's nuclear
stance that it has an "inalienable right" to
possess a civilian nuclear fuel cycle, just as
Egypt has repeatedly signed onto various
Non-Aligned Movement communique endorsing this
At a time of growing tensions with
Turkey, which has embraced NATO's anti-missile
system which has a clear eye toward both Iran and
Russia, such NATO's intrusions may need to be
offset by greater show of solidarity among the
Middle East nations that do not subscribe to
Lest we forget,
Morsi has questioned France's military
intervention in Mali, rationalized in the familiar
post 9/11 language of "war on terror", although
few can deny France's other ambition of projecting
power in its former colonies and beyond. Morsi is
planning a tour of Germany and France and it
remains to be seen if he will remain steadfast in
his subtle criticism of France's "blind mission in
Mali", to paraphrase the former French prime
minister, Dominique de Villepin.
sufficiently alarmed by the growing NATO intrusion
to set aside its traditional misgivings about the
"Russian bear" and enter into a new security
agreement with Moscow. The agreement calls for
greater Iran-Russia intelligence cooperation and
is a definite sign of Tehran's and Moscow's
growing disquiet about Western intentions in Syria
and elsewhere in the Middle East. The big question
is whether Morsi and his foreign policy circle are
comfortable with the present pattern of NATO
interventionism in the Middle East and, if not,
are they willing to move closer to Iran and
Indeed, this key question lays
bare the important foreign policy choices that
need to be made by the post-revolutionary Egyptian
political system dominated by the Muslim
Brotherhood, which traces itself back to the
mid-19th century anti-colonial crusade of the
movement's forefathers, for example the Mahdi in
Sudan in the 1880s, who inspired a generation of
Egyptian Islamists in early 20th century.
Bottom line, this is a question of
authenticity and fidelity to the movement's
founding (anti-neocolonial) religious ideology.
Indeed, the powerful attraction of shared
ideological sentiments between Iran and Egypt may
eventually melt away all the present hesitations
and cautiousness regarding the importance of
building solid bridges between Tehran and Cairo -
the region has had enough Western manipulation and
constant remapping the political geography for the
assertive powers such as Egypt to ignore.
One reason why there is a strong
resistance by the European powers to hold the next
Iran talks in Cairo is that it weakens their
coercive diplomacy toward Tehran by raising the
prospect of a more forceful pro-Iran position by
Egypt undermining the Western strategy vis-a-vis
Iran, at a time when the nuclear-armed Israel is
subjected to absolutely no pressure whatsoever.
Both Egypt and Iran have been enthusiastic
supporters of the idea of a Middle East nuclear
weapons-free zone, particularly at the various
nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review
conferences as far back as 2000. And both Tehran
and Cairo have been critical of the recent US
decision to cancel the world summit on this
subject matter in Finland last December.
Indirectly then, Cairo's willingness to
host the next round of Iran nuclear talks would
send a clear signal regarding the Iran-Egypt
common cause on this issue, which raises the
subject of Israel's bombs - which need to be taken
into consideration in any serious
non-proliferation effort in the Middle East.
It would be smart diplomacy for the "new
Egypt" to embrace Iran's suggestion and convince
the Western governments that it can be a suitable
and neutral host, heeding its mission to play a
bigger and bigger role in regional conflict
management than Egypt ever did before the Arab
Spring. This is a political, strategic and even
theoretical challenge for Cairo, but one that it
should boldly embrace.
, PhD, is the author of After
Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy
(Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry,
here. He is author of Reading In Iran
Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge
Publishing , October 23, 2008) and Looking for
Rights at Harvard. His latest book is UN
Management Reform: Selected Articles and
Interviews on United Nations CreateSpace
(November 12, 2011).
Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights
reserved. Please contact us about sales,