Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—The near future will see increased counter-terrorism cooperation and coordination between Egypt and Iran according to Ahmad Moballeghi, Iran’s representative at this week’s anti-terror conference in Cairo.
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with Moballeghi, head of the Islamic Proximity Research Center in Iran and a senior Iranian cleric who holds the rank of Hojjat al-Islam, about Tehran’s counter-terror efforts and relations with Saudi Arabia.
He said: “The forthcoming period will see closer cooperation between Cairo and Tehran to confront terrorism and violence. There will be meetings [between officials] to reach a joint understanding between Egypt and Iran, on both the political and religious levels.”
“We must be aware that confronting terrorism is not easy, because terrorism has deep roots in the region and therefore we must all come together and unite to confront this phenomenon,” he added.
The Cairo counter-terror conference, held on Wednesday and Thursday and sponsored by Al-Azhar, strongly condemned the “barbaric crimes” being committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The conference was attended by leading Islamic clerics and religious figures from across the region, including Coptic Pope Tawadros II.
In his speech inaugurating the conference on Wednesday, Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb praised the US-led international coalition’s efforts against ISIS.
“The international coalition must call on all its material and moral energies to eradicate this terrorism, in all its manifestations, doctrines and schools, and to confront the countries that support it,” he said, warning that ISIS was spreading a “false” Islam.
Some Arab analysts say Iran’s policies in the region, and particularly its backing of the Bashar Al-Assad regime in Syria, have created an environment that has allowed for the emergence of extremist groups like ISIS.
When Asharq Al-Awsat asked Moballegi to respond to these claims, he said: “This is not true. Iran is not supporting any particular factions, but we are supporting peace and security for all parties . . .We are not supporting any political faction at the expense of another political faction or state. Any disturbance in the region also affects us.”
The Iranian cleric also denied that Tehran is seeking to spread Shi’ism in Sunni-dominated states. “This is not true. We want to be in sync [with the Arab world], not at odds. We welcome all aspects of rapprochement between the Sunnis and Shi’ites,” he said.
Despite claiming that relations between Arab Middle East states and Iran are “good,” the Iranian cleric acknowledged the existence of tensions between Tehran and Riyadh.
Moballeghi said: “Saudi-Iranian relations contain a lot of differences linked to regional politics and this is something that I cannot deny. On this issue, my opinion is consistent with many senior Iranian officials, namely that we can hold dialogue with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We extend our hand to all parties and welcome any dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran until we can find a path to reach agreement. Saudi Arabia has said that ISIS represents a threat to the entire ummah [global Muslim community] . . .and we agree with that.”
“The differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran are political, not ideological, and that is why we welcome any initiatives that can secure greater understanding between us,” he added.