Ahmadinejad

Esther Bintliff

The visit of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad to Cairo on Tuesday marked the first time an Iranian leader has been to Egypt since Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979. At a press conference he said he hoped the trip would be “a new starting point in relations between us”.

But the Iranian president, who is a Shia Muslim, suffered two awkward moments during his visit. He was reprimanded by the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar, the highest authority in Sunni Islam, who warned him against seeking the “extension of Shia reach”, pressed for Sunni Muslims in Iran to be given full rights, and told Ahmadi-Nejad to hold back from interfering in Gulf Arab states.

Then, as the Iranian president visited a mosque, a man tried to strike him with a shoe. 

James Blitz

In this photo from April 2010, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is shown unveiling a sample of the third generation centrifuge for uranium enrichment (Photo by BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week’s report by the International Atomic Energy Agency into Iran’s nuclear programme has left observers somewhat perplexed over Tehran’s intentions.

There was a certain amount of worrying news in the report that will heighten concern that the stand-off will end in military confrontation. But there was also some reassuring detail about Iran’s actions that probably needs to be highlighted more clearly than it has been.

The big headline from the report (the worrying news, if you like) was that Iran has significantly increased the number of centrifuge machines which can be used to manufacture more highly enriched uranium – so-called 20 per cent uranium – at its heavily protected facility at Fordow, near Qom. This 20 per cent concentration worries the west because it is close to the weapons grade concentration of uranium needed to produce bomb.