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Minister says Iran wants full ties with Egypt

TEHRAN, June 21 (Reuters) - A senior Iranian official said on Monday his country wanted to re-establish closer ties with Egypt, and sharply criticised Islamic hardliners who were trying to undermine them.

``The view of the government and the Supreme National Security Council is to move toward a comprehensive rebuilding of ties with Egypt,'' Ataollah Mohajerani, the government spokesman and Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, told reporters.

The council, headed by moderate President Mohammad Khatami, is Iran's top policy-making body for security affairs.

Speaking at a news conference, the minister sharply criticised a hardline faction in Iran which has launched a campaign to undermine better relations between Tehran and Cairo.

The group painted a mural in Tehran last week in honour of the assassin of the late Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat. The mural appears on a building overlooking the street named after Khaled Islambouli, the Islamic activist who assassinated Sadat in 1981.

The move was in defiance of parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, who recently said Iran could consider renaming the street if it helped improve troubled ties with Egypt.

It also came on the opening day of an Islamic conference hosted by Tehran to promote Moslem unity. Egypt has sent a delegation to the meeting.

``The move was a clear expression of this group's poor taste, at a time when we had Egyptian guests in Tehran and a good and suitable atmosphere of cooperation had taken shape,'' said Mohajerani, who is a reputed moderate close to Khatami and has been a target of extremists' wrath and even physical attack.

Cairo has long let it be known that better relations were impossible as long as Tehran continued to honour Islambouli, and the mural appeared to be a direct attempt to halt a gradual diplomatic warming.

Iran cut diplomatic ties with Egypt in 1979 after Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel and gave asylum to the Shah toppled by the Islamic revolution.


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