World News

Egypt denies rift with Saudi, drift toward Iran

MANAMA (Reuters) - Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri on Saturday hailed a “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia, denying reports that the two powerful Arab nations had fallen out after Egypt expressed support for the Russian intervention in Syria.

Egypt voted in favor of a Russian-backed U.N. resolution on Syria in October that excluded calls to stop bombing Aleppo, which Saudi Arabia strongly opposed.

The kingdom informed Egypt last month that shipments of oil products expected under a $23 billion aid deal had been halted indefinitely, but Shukri denied the nations were at loggerheads and said any disagreements had been exaggerated.

“Let me reassure you that from Egypt’s perspective we have a very clear vision as to the fundamental nature of that relationship ... Arab national security depends on the cohesion and understanding that exists between Saudi Arabia and Egypt.”

“The sensitivity that exists in ... what may be perceived as divergence of views or differences of opinion might be escalated in the press to take dimensions that go beyond the inherent special relationship,” Shukri said at the Manama Dialogue conference on Middle East security in Bahrain.

Shukri added that Egypt was not building its relations with Saudi arch rival Iran, with which it has had strained diplomatic ties since the late 1970s, but has said it engages with the Islamic Republic in multilateral forums.

“Egypt maintains a severance of diplomatic relations in the past 25 years and has taken no position to change that situation.”

“Egypt has always taken the opportunity of such discussions to re-emphasize the positions of the Arab nation, the interest of the Arab nation, vis-à-vis what might be expansionary policies of Iran,” he added.

Saudi Arabia and some of its Gulf Arab allies accuse Iran of trying to encircle the kingdom by supporting militia groups in the region - a charge Tehran denies.

Reporting By William Maclean; Writing by Noah Browning; Editing by Louise Heavens