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NightWatch 20120821

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NightWatch

For the night of 21 August 2012

Iran-Egypt: In an interview with Egypt's state-run Al-Ahram newspaper that was published on 21 August, Iranian Foreign Minister Salehi said that Iran and Egypt are moving towards restoring diplomatic relations.

"Egypt is the cornerstone of the region and has a special stature in the Arab and Muslim countries... and we want relations of friendship and brotherhood with it," Salehi said. Salehi said Egypt's "revolution opened a new chapter in Egypt's relations with the outside world," adding that the Islamic republic welcomes Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi attending a Non-Aligned Movement summit later this month in Tehran.

A source at the Egyptian presidency said Mursi will attend the 30 August summit in Tehran at which the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) presidency will be passed from Egypt to Iran.

Comment: Mursi's visit to Tehran would be the first by an Egyptian president in three decades. Mursi is doing exactly what he said he would do: change the balance in Egypt's foreign affairs. Mursi's attendance at the NAM summit almost seems to turn the clock back to the time when Egypt was a leader of the NAM, with Nasser as its Second Secretary General (1964-1970), and Iran was an American ally. The symbolism will not be lost on the Arabs.

A commentator for Asia Times Online judged that improved Iranian ties with Egypt might counter-balance the Saudi -American strategy to bring down the government of Syria. Iran is the natural and only counterweight to offset 30 years of US ties and a treaty with Israel.

Egyptian links to Iran will never be as close as Syrian ties have been, but they don't have to move far to reshape the strategic power arrangements in the Middle East. Those arrangements are moving, but not in a pro-US direction.

Egypt-Israel: An Israeli government spokesman said Israel is 'troubled' by the entry of Egyptian tanks into the northern Sinai Peninsula without coordination with Israel. Unilateral action of this nature is a violation of the terms of the 33-year-old peace treaty between the two countries. Israel has asked Egypt to withdraw them.

Comment: Egyptian newspapers have countered with details of the extent of coordination that has occurred between Egypt, the US and Israel in connection with Egypt's Sinai operation, called Operation Eagle.

The Israelis are testing the new government's compliance with the letter of the peace treaty. They may be expected to continue to harass and probe the new government in Cairo as long as they are unsure of its friendship.

Mali: The foreign minister said Tuesday that winning back the Islamist-occupied north was the top priority of a unity government which was formed on orders from West African mediators. 'The priority is reconquest, the liberation of the north from dark forces currently occupying it,' said Tieman Coulibaly, who was appointed as foreign minister on Monday, joining 12 other new cabinet members in the government shake-up.

Comment: Formation of a functioning government would be a small, obvious, but important step towards reconquest. The pace is glacial.

End of NightWatch for 21 August.

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