Egypt's president invited to Iran, discusses Syria

CAIRO (AP) — Iran's foreign minister on Thursday invited Egypt's president to visit Tehran again, a sign of improved relations between the two nations since an Islamist government took over in Cairo.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi discussed the Syria crisis with President Mohammed Morsi, who has launched a four-nation initiative to end the civil war that has taken the lives of more than 60,000 people in 22 months.

It was Salehi's third visit since Morsi took office last summer. Diplomatic relations, downgraded after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and Egypt's peace treaty with Israel, remained cold during the three-decade rule of President Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed in a 2011 popular uprising.

Ties have warmed since then. Morsi visited Tehran to attend a summit of nonaligned nations a few weeks after he took office.

The Syria situation dominated talks on Thursday. Iran is Syria's main regional ally. Egypt scaled back its diplomatic relations with Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime in February, when it withdrew its ambassador to Damascus.

Egypt has been working to resolve the crisis by involving Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, but its initiative has not made progress.

Salehi praised Morsi's attempt.

"Egypt is an acceptable partner for all involved," Salehi said at a news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr Kamel. "We hope from our heart that countries in the region unite to find a Syrian-Syrian solution and prevent any foreign intervention."

Salehi said other Muslim countries have expressed interest in joining the initiative, naming Indonesia, Pakistan and Malaysia.

In December, Iran floated a vague peace plan for Syria, calling for a transitional government and elections for parliament and president, without stating whether Assad should remain in office.

The plan marked a shift in Iran's previous unwavering support for Assad.

"Any government including the Syrian government must answer the demands of its people," Salehi said Thursday. "Syria needs dialogue and negotiations between the government and the opposition." Main Syrian opposition groups refuse to talk with Assad, insisting that he step down.

Kamel said Morsi renewed his invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to attend an Islamic summit in Egypt next month.

Kamel addressed concerns that its warming relations with Iran could impact negatively on Gulf nations.

"The security of the Gulf is the security of Egypt," he said. "Its relations with any party will not be at the expense of the security of the Gulf."