Saturday, February 19, 2011

Egypt Approves Iran Warships to Pass Through the Suez Canal

Egypt OKs Iran warships through Suez Canal

Israel called it a provocation; canal official said only war could have blocked request

CAIRO — Egypt has agreed to let two Iranian naval vessels transit the Suez Canal, a move that comes despite expressions of concern by Israeli officials, the Egyptian-government's MENA news agency reported Friday.

An Iranian diplomat has said the vessels were heading to Syria for training and that the request to move through the canal is in line with international regulations.

Iranian diplomats have offered assurances that the two ships wouldn't have weapons or nuclear or chemical material, MENA stated.

White House spokesman Jay Carney, briefing reporters on an Air Force One flight from California to Oregon, said, "We're monitoring that, obviously."

"But we also would say that Iran does not have a great track record of responsible behavior in the region," he said.

The move had been widely expected and Iranian officials have insisted the request is in line with international regulations.

It would be the first time since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution that Iranian warships pass through the Suez Canal, which links the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.

Egypt has been run by an army-led transition government since last week's ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising.

Soldiers opened fire Friday on thousands of protesters defying a government ban and streaming toward the landmark square that had been the symbolic center of the uprising.

A Suez Canal official said Egypt can only deny transit through the waterway in case of war.

Earlier this week, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Iran's attempt to send warships through the canal was a provocation.

Israel's state-funded Channel One television said Lieberman, a stridently far-right partner in the conservative coalition, had spoken out of turn and that Israels defense ministry "had preferred to ignore" the ships' approach.

Israel considers Iran an existential threat because of its disputed nuclear program, ballistic missile development, support for militants in the region and its threats to destroy Israel.

Syria is one of Israel's neighboring adversaries. It has an alliance with Iran which has deepened along with Tehran's isolation from the West over its disputed nuclear programme, which the Jewish state sees as an existential threat. Iran is a sponsor of the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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