This morning, The Wall Street Journal reported that for the first time in more than three decades, Iran had appointed an ambassador to Egypt. That would be a big deal: During Hosni Mubarak's rule, Egypt was the United States' and Israel's staunch ally. That Egypt and Iran would flirt could, as the paper puts it, "upset the Mideast's fragile balance of power."
What's really going on, though, is unclear. Reuters says the Egyptians have denied those reports and PressTV, the Iranian government's official English-language news agency, reversed itself and reported that Iran had not appointed an embassador to Cairo and the reports were simply "hasty speculations:"
"As soon as the grounds are ready for officially expanding relations, we will pursue the matter," Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said on Tuesday, IRNA reported.
"We are prepared to take serious steps to send an ambassador to Egypt if the necessary grounds are prepared among our Egyptian brothers," he stated.
The spokesman also described a visit by Iran's ambassador to the United Nations to Egypt last Monday as "not defined for bilateral ties."
The diplomatic dance is complex: Egypt's foreign ministry spokeswoman, Ambassador Menha Bakhoum, said this week that "The former regime used to see Iran as an enemy, but we don't." And the Journal reports that Egypt's new foreign minister is mulling a visit to the Gaza Strip.
According to one analyst quoted by The Telegraph, Egypt simply wants to strengthen its negotiating hand with the United States:
Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli-Iranian analyst, said Egypt was trying to win greater leverage over the United States and Israel, but would not shift altogether into the Iranian camp for fear of upsetting neighbours such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
"Egypt will find it far too costly to enter into a strategic alliance with Iran," he said.
The Wall Street Journal comes to the same general conclusion:
Egyptian officials and several foreign-policy analysts say the new diplomacy isn't so much an expression of affinity with Iran as it is a broader effort to reclaim lost diplomatic prestige. Egypt's new government presents the policy shift as part of a general diplomatic reopening, rather than a reordering, of its regional relationships.