DEBKAFILE - April 1, 2007
The live wire at last week's Arab League summit in Riyadh was undoubtedly the non-Arab guest of honor, Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
He breezed around the Arab delegations hard-selling the notion of a mutual defense treaty between Iran and the Arabs on the lines of the Tehran-Damascus pact. Mottaki argued that a treaty of this kind would allay Arab fears of an Iranian nuclear threat, put a stop to a Middle East nuclear arms race, provide the Arabs with a protective umbrella against Israeli aggression and set up an Arab-Islamic front against US and other foreign intervention in the region.
The Iranian diplomat's proposition fell on willing ears.
DEBKAfile's Middle East sources report that he had a long conversation in Riyadh with Saudi foreign minister Prince Saudi al-Faisal, at which they looked the treaty plan in some detail and agreed that their defense ministries would assign special teams to explore it further. The Iranian minister argued that the joint effort of Riyadh and Tehran to pacify Lebanon and reconcile the internal differences among its rival factions could work as well for the Palestinian Authority. He said increasing Saudi-Iranian cooperation in joint diplomatic-strategic projects across the Middle East ought to extend to the military sphere.
Our source also reported exchanges between the Iranian and Egyptian delegations to the Arab summit last week on the resumption of diplomatic ties.
Saturday, March 31, Iran's chief of staff Gen. Hassan Fayrouz Abadi, prodded the Arabs again; he urged them to hurry up and join Iran in a defense treaty because, he claimed, Israel threatened a war offensive in summer, two months hence. According to the Iranian general, Israel was bent on a "suicide assault" against a number of Arab states to save the Americans from having to pull their troops out of Iraq.
Before the conference ended, the Saudi foreign minister arranged a four-way meeting between King Abdullah, Mottaki, and the two Palestinian leaders, Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. Together they discussed how Iran and Saudi Arabia could work together to apply the Mecca reconciliation accords which established a unity government between Fatah and Hamas. This was taken by Iran as Riyadh's approval of the military assistance Tehran gives the Palestinians and a formal, collective Arab endorsement.
DEBKAfile's political analysts take this step as a mark of Saudi contempt for Israel, and further, the collapse of the Saudi initiative led by national security adviser Prince Bandar bin-Sultan for direct Saudi-Israeli talks. Instead, the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement led by Saudi al-Faisal has prevailed. The Israel-Palestinian issue has been shifted to the Saudi-Iranian ken by the Faisal faction which has attained ascendancy in Riyadh and argues that the time has come for the Arabs to take their fate in their own hands and drop their dependence on foreign powers, namely the Americans.
DEBKAfile's sources have learned that talks for the resumption of Egyptian-Iranian diplomatic relations have already begun. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak entertained for breakfast in Cairo last week Iranian ex-president Muhammad Hatami, who now heads the Institute for Dialogue among Cultures. Present too was Egyptian prime minister Ahmed Natif. Relations were broken off in 1979, the first year of the Islamic revolution, after Ayatollah Khomeini praised the murderers of President Anwar Sadat and a Tehran thoroughfares for one of the assassins, Muhammad Islambouly.
Hatami pressed his host to seriously consider resuming diplomatic relations, maintaining that the Muslim world is beset by a crisis caused by Western domination. Muslim powers must therefore work together to recover control of their own countries. He spoke highly of Egypt's importance in the Arab and Muslim worlds. By working together, the two governments could make a difference, he said.
After the meal, Hatami and Natif put their heads together and agreed that a high-ranking Iranian delegation would visit Cairo in April to set up arrangements for the two embassies to re-open. The Iranian leader made a similar attempt to restore relations in 2001 when he was president. It broke down when Iranian extremists refused to take down Islambouli's street name as demanded by Cairo.