x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Egypt's Morsi slams 'oppressive' Syria regime on Iran visit

Mohammed Morsi alled the Syrian regime "oppressive" as he opened the Non-Aligned Movement summit today in a speech that was sure to embarrass Tehran.

TEHRAN // Mohammed Morsi, the Egypt president, called the Syrian regime "oppressive" as he opened the Non-Aligned Movement summit today in a speech that was sure to embarrass host Iran.

"The revolution in Egypt is the cornerstone for the Arab Spring, which started days after Tunisia and then it was followed by Libya and Yemen and now the revolution in Syria against its oppressive regime," Mr Morsi said.

"The Palestinian and Syrian people are actively seeking freedom, dignity and human justice," he said, adding that "Egypt is ready to work with all to stop the bloodshed."

Mr Morsi's description of the conflict in Syria as a "revolution" against oppressive masters jarred with the narrative given by Tehran and Damascus that the uprising is separate from the Arab Spring, and consists largely of foreign-backed "terrorists" acting on behalf of the United States and regional countries.

It was the first time an Egyptian leader has visited Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979, after which Tehran and Cairo cut diplomatic relations.

Iran had hailed the presence of Mr Morsi, who opened the NAM summit, as a chance to thaw ties.

Meanwhile, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei slammed the "overt dictatorship" of the UN Security Council during the summit that included UN chief Ban Ki-moon in the audience.

"The UN Security Council has an irrational, unjust and utterly undemocratic structure, and this is an overt dictatorship," Ayatollah Khamenei said to the 120-member movement.

Iran is in a showdown with the UN over its disputed nuclear programme, which has resulted in four sets of Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on it for pursuing uranium enrichment.

Ayatollah Khamenei charged that "the control room of the world [the Security Council] is under the control of the dictatorship of some Western countries" — implying permanent council members the United States, France and Britain.

State television showed Mr Ban looking nonplussed as the Ayatollah delivered his speech.

The NAM, which represents much of the developing world, has long championed a reform of the United Nations to take power away from the UN Security Council and bolster the say of the UN General Assembly, where its members are better represented.

Ayatollah Khamenei's criticism of the UN's top table followed a meeting he had with Mr Ban yesterday in which the UN leader bluntly told Iran to take "concrete" steps to ease the showdown over the nuclear issue.

He again stressed that Tehran has never pursued nuclear weapons, saying he considers the use of nuclear weapons to be "a big and unforgivable sin," but it will not abandon its controversial nuclear programme.

Iran's media reported that Mr Morsi is to discuss bilateral relations with Ayatollah Khamenei along with regional events, and the revolts sweeping the Arab world that this year brought him to power.