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Putin, Egypt President Expanding Ties  12/11 06:17

   CAIRO (AP) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, making his second visit to 
Egypt in as many years, held talks Monday with his Egyptian counterpart on 
their countries' rapidly expanding ties.

   Egypt's general-turned-president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has visited Russia 
three times since the ouster of his Islamist predecessor in 2013. After taking 
office, el-Sissi has bought billions of dollars' worth of Russian weapons, 
including fighter jets and assault helicopters.

   The two countries are also in the late stages of negotiations over the 
construction by a Russian company of Egypt's first nuclear energy reactor.

   Also, Russia last month approved a draft agreement with Egypt to allow 
Russian warplanes to use Egyptian military bases, a deal that would mark a 
significant leap in bilateral ties and evidence of Moscow's expanding military 
role in a turbulent Middle East. That deal, if it goes through, will likely irk 
the United States, until now a top Egypt military ally.

   Putin flew to Cairo after a brief and previously unannounced visit to a 
Russian military air base in Syria. The air base has served as the main 
foothold for the air campaign Russia has waged since September 2015 in support 
of Syrian President Bashar Assad against armed groups opposed to his rule.

   El-Sissi met Putin at Cairo's international airport and the two leaders 
later went straight to the presidential Ittahidyah palace in Cairo's upscale 
Heliopolis suburb where talks got underway.

   Egypt's currently close ties with Russia harken back to the 1950s and 1960s, 
when Cairo became Moscow's closest Arab ally during the peak years of the Cold 
War.

   Egypt changed allies in the 1970s under the late President Anwar Sadat, who 
replaced Moscow with Washington as his country's chief economic and military 
backer following the signing of a U.S.-sponsored peace treaty with Israel. 
Egypt has since become a major recipient of U.S. economic and military aid.

   In what would have been unthinkable during the Cold War, Egypt has under 
el-Sissi been able to maintain close ties with both Russia and the United 
States.

   Egypt, however, has not been able thus far to persuade Russia to resume its 
flights to Egypt, suspended since October 2015 when a suspected bomb brought 
down a Russian airliner over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on 
board. Egypt has since spent millions of dollars to upgrade security at its 
airports and undergone numerous checks by Russian experts to ascertain the 
level of security at the facilities.

   The suspension of Russian flights has dealt a devastating blow to Egypt's 
vital tourism industry. Britain, another major source of visitors, has since 
the Russian airliner's crash also suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, a Red 
Sea resort in Sinai from which the Russian airliner took off shortly before it 
crashed.

   "Your Excellency: When will Russian tourism return to Egypt?" read the 
front-page banner headline in a Cairo daily loyal to the government, in both 
Arabic and Russian.

   There have been speculations that el-Sissi and Putin might during the visit 
finalize and announce a deal on the construction of the nuclear reactor on 
Egypt's Mediterranean coast after months of wrangling over technical and 
financial details.

   Egypt and Russia have already initialed an agreement for a $25 billion 
Russian loan to finance the construction.

   Egypt has quietly supported Russia's military involvement in the Syrian 
civil war, a policy that had clashed with the position taken by Saudi Arabia, 
Cairo's chief ally and financial backer. The Saudis, however, have gradually 
softened their opposition to Russian involvement there and taken a host of 
steps to thaw decades of frosty relations with Moscow.

   Both the Saudis and Egyptians, according to analysts, are now hoping that 
Russia's presence in Syria would curtail the growing influence there of Shiite, 
non-Arab Iran, whose expanding leverage in the region has been a source of 
alarm to both Cairo and Riyadh.

   Egypt, meanwhile, has been raising its own profile in Syria, negotiating 
local cease-fires between government and opposition forces with the blessing of 
both Damascus and Moscow.


(KA)

 
 
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