(Reuters) - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the first visit to Cairo by an Iranian leader in more than three decades, called for a strategic alliance withEgypt and said he had offered the cash-strapped Arab state a loan.
In a step by Iran to advance ties that were broken in 1979, the Iranian foreign minister said Egyptian tourists and merchants would no longer require visas to visit, Egypt's state news agency reported.
The effort drew a cool response, however. Shi'ite Islamist Iran is still looked on with suspicion by many in Egypt, a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation. Points of contention include Iran's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its policies elsewhere in the Arab world.
Ahmadinejad said outside forces were trying to prevent a rapprochement between the Middle East's two most populous nations, at odds since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and Egypt's signing of a peace treaty with Israel in the same year.
"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," the official MENA news agency quoted him as telling Egyptian journalists.
The two countries have not restored diplomatic ties since Egypt overthrew its long term leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but its first Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, gave Ahmadinejad a red-carpet welcome on Tuesday to a summit of Islamic nations.
"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.