CAIRO (AP) - Egyptian and Iranian airlines agreed Sunday to resume direct flights between the two countries for the first time since 1979, when Tehran severed ties because Egypt made peace with Israel and gave asylum to the shah deposed in the Islamic Revolution.
Iran has an uneasy relationship with U.S.-allied Arab nations such as Egypt, which are concerned about Tehran's growing influence in the Middle East, suspicions over its nuclear ambitions, and its support for radical Islamic groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. "Egypt and Iran are the lungs of the Middle East and the two can't breath without each other," Shahbaz Yazdani, an Iranian cultural official, told the independent Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm on Friday.
The head of the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority Sameh al-Hafni said that according to the new agreement, 28 flights regulated by a privately owned company called Egyptian Mission will carry travelers between the capitals of the two countries weekly. Rami Lakah, owner of Egyptian Mission, said the contract with Iranian counterpart Kish Air is for eight years. There was no word on when flights would begin. The deal was part of increased commercial dealings between the two countries but so far, that has not translated into renewal of diplomatic relations between them. Last December, hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeated an offer to open an embassy in Cairo. But Egypt canceled a planned visit to Cairo last month by Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, to protest his criticism of Arab leaders for attending the new round of Mideast peace talks in Washington. Egypt has maintained that normal ties with Iran would come only
after Iran stopped meddling in internal affairs of Arab countries. It has also demanded that Iran take down a large mural in Tehran of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's assassin, Khaled el-Islambouli, and change the name of a street honoring him.