Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that Tehran has no intention of attacking Israel and that the world needs to cooperate with Iran. The comments came as the leader marked a historical visit to Cairo for the 12th Islamic Summit Conference.
“[Israel] wants to attack Iran, but we’re not preparing any attack against them because the purpose of our program is defense,” Ahmadinejad told Al-Ahram newspaper in an interview before his trip to Egypt.
The leader also reiterated that Zionists were trying to take over global power and wealth throughout the world, and that the best solution was for the world to cooperate with Iran.
“[The world] wants Iran to go back to what it was in the past, but they won’t succeed. They assume we’ll give in to pressure, but such thoughts are misguided. We’re already an industrial and nuclear country…we must ensure development and growth and bring them to pass, and the world must acknowledge our progress,” he said.
Ahmadinejad’s comments came just days after new equipment at Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant stirred condemnation from Israel and the US.
The US and its allies have long accused Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability – a claim which Tehran has repeatedly denied.
Talks between Iran and world powers are due to take place later this month in Kazakhstan.
Russia has put pressure on Iran by saying that it expected to see “serious progress” made at this month’s nuclear talks.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Iran and world powers had made no progress since the last round of negotiations were held in Moscow in June 2012.
Meanwhile, Iran says the ball is in Washington’s court.
"If [the United States] demonstrates genuine goodwill and honesty, we'll have the best possible talks," Iran’s ambassador to Russia, Mahmoud Reza Sajjadi, told a news conference in Moscow.
A deal on the meeting, which is scheduled to take place on February 26, is being seen as a success in itself. It comes after months of haggling over possible venues and dates.
Ahmadinejad is currently in Egypt for the 12th Islamic Summit Conference. His presence marks the first visit to Cairo by an Iranian leader in more than three decades.
Speaking at the conference, Ahmadinejad said that outside forces were trying to prevent a rapprochement between Egypt and Iran.
"There are those striving to prevent these two great countries from coming together despite the fact that the region's problems require this meeting, especially the Palestinian question," Ahmadinejad said, as quoted by MENA news agency.
The relationship between the two countries has been tense since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution and Egypt’s signing of a peace treaty with Israel the same year.
The leader went on to call for a strategic alliance with Egypt.
“We must all understand that the only option is to set up this alliance because it is in the interests of the Egyptian and Iranian peoples and other nations of the region," he said.
Although Cairo gave Ahmadinejad a red-carpet welcome when he arrived on Tuesday, Egypt’s foreign minister downplayed the significance of the visit, saying the leader was purely in Cairo for the summit.
“It's just a normal procedure. That's all," he said.
In his interview, Ahmadinejad said that Iran had offered to lend money to Egypt despite being under international economic sanctions over its nuclear program.
"I have said previously that we can offer a big credit line to the Egyptian brothers, and many services," he said.
He did not say if there had been any response. Egypt’s current financial situation has led the country to seek aid from other countries.
On Tuesday, Cairo disclosed that its foreign reserves had fallen below the $15 billion level that covers three months’ imports.
The country is currently in talks for a $900 million loan from the EU, a $500 million loan from the African Development Bank, and a $450 million loan from the US. It is also in talks for a $1 billion loan from Turkey.
While it remains unclear whether the Egyptian government will snub Iran’s offer of financial assistance, the feelings of several Egyptian citizens regarding Ahmadinejad’s visit were a bit more clear cut.
Three Egyptians and a Syrian were detained on suspicion of trying to attack the Iranian President at a mosque, security sources told Reuters.
Video footage shows a bearded man trying twice to throw a shoe at the leader as he was surrounded by well-wishers leaving the Hussein mosque.