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Renaming Tehran street may not lead to Egypt ties

Egypt may not agree to restore full ties with Iran even if it renames ...

Egypt may not agree to restore full ties with Iran even if it renames a Tehran street honouring the assassin of President Anwar Sadat, analysts said yesterday. Tehran's reformist-dominated city council decided on Monday to debate changing the name of the street commemorating Khaled Islambouli, a Muslim militant soldier who shot Sadat in 1981.

"Egypt would not be able to accept the restoration of ties with Islambouli's name on the Tehran street," Mohammed Sayyed Ahmed, a writer at the state-owned Al Ahram daily, told Reuters. "But changing the name does not mean that ties will immediately be restored."

Tehran council members propose renaming the street after Mohammed Al Durra, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy shot dead by Israeli troops early in the Palestinian uprising that has raged in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for more than eight months.

Iranian-Egyptian ties have warmed slightly in recent years, but analysts said security concerns and regional alliances could still brake any swift move towards normal relations. "Egypt will, of course, welcome the change," said Islamist writer Fahmy Howeidy. "But the street name is only one of several complicated accounts to settle."

He said Egypt had used the issue as a pretext to delay restoring ties severed after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. Iran broke relations after the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini denounced Egypt for the peace treaty with Israel signed by Sadat in 1979. Tehran still opposes peace with Israel.

Iran's deposed Shah took refuge in Egypt and was buried in Cairo, which became another cause for recriminations. Analysts said Egyptian security agencies might have their own reservations over improving relations with Iran, which they might still view as a dangerous source of Islamic militancy. "Security organs do not make their positions public," noted one Egyptian analyst.

Radical Muslim groups took up arms in 1992 to topple President Hosni Mubarak's government and set up a strict Islamic state. The armed campaign petered out in 1997 after costing the lives of about 1,200 people, mostly police and militants.

Egyptian policymakers must also consider the impact of any fence-mending with Iran on allies such as the United States. Washington maintains harsh trade sanctions against Iran, on its list of states accused of sponsoring terrorism, and penalises foreign firms which invest in its oil sector.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's harsh tactics against Palestinians waging an independence revolt may prove one factor drawing Egypt and Iran together, analysts said. "Sharon represents an element that encourages the opposing parties to come closer," Ahmed said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Cairo earlier this year that Israel's "repressive policies" towards the Palestinians were driving Iran and Egypt closer.