June 16, 2008 - 5:05pm,7340,L-3556073,00.html

Egypt sees Iran "on a surge" in the Arab world, playing many political and diplomatic cards regardless of Arab interests, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in an interview.

 Aboul Gheit said that in response to its dispute with the United States and Europe over its nuclear program Iran was seeking bargaining leverage abroad and the only region it could find leverage was in the Arab world. "This has a negative effect on the Palestinian question, definitely, and in Lebanon to some extent," he added.

"The political cards which Iran holds ... it holds out of a desire to defend Iranian interests. It might be Iran's right to try, but Egypt has a right to defend Arab territory," he added.

"You now find that Iran is on a surge and it imagines that it is able to influence the region. Perhaps they can influence the region, but we always say to our friends in Iran: 'Let the influence on the region be positive,'" he said.

Aboul Gheit was speaking to the newspaper Rose El Yousef and the state news agency MENA carried the text on Sunday.

The Egyptian government is part of an informal Arab alliance against Iranian influence in the Arab world but Egyptian officials rarely speak against Tehran in public.
Game of cards
The Egyptian minister noted Iranian influence in Iraq, in Lebanon, where it backs the Shi'ite Muslim movement Hezbollah, and in the Palestinian territories, where it helps Hamas.

"What we now see in Lebanon ... amounts to the achievement of gains by an Islamic party by which I mean Iran, which holds many of the cards," he said. "It does not hold these cards out of a desire to defend Arab interests."



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