American of­fi­cial says Egypt risks chance of sanc­tions if it buys Rus­sian fighter jets

The National - News - - NEWS - HAMZA HENDAWI Cairo and KELSEY WARNER

Egypt risks sanc­tions if it goes ahead with the pur­chase of Rus­sian Su-35 fighter jets, a US of­fi­cial said yes­ter­day, high­light­ing the threat the po­ten­tial deal posed to long-stand­ing mil­i­tary ties be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Cairo.

“This is some­thing they [Egypt] al­ready know; it puts them at risk of sanc­tions and it puts them at risk of loss of fu­ture ac­qui­si­tion,” RClarke Cooper, US As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary for Po­lit­i­cal-Mil­i­tary Af­fairs, said at the Dubai Air­show.

The US stance leaves Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah El Sisi with a dilemma: buy the Rus­sian air­craft and jeop­ar­dise close re­la­tions with Wash­ing­ton, or drop the deal and dis­credit his pol­icy of di­ver­si­fy­ing weapons pro­cure­ment for the armed forces.

Un­der Mr El Sisi, Egypt has bought weapons worth bil­lions of dol­lars from France, Ger­many and Rus­sia, in­clud­ing at­tack he­li­copters, sub­marines, troop car­ri­ers, fighter jets and frigates. At the same time it has con­tin­ued to ben­e­fit from Wash­ing­ton’s decades-old mil­i­tary aid pro­gramme, worth $1.3 bil­lion (Dh4.77bn) a year, to buy US-made tanks, ar­moured ve­hi­cles, F-16 jets and Apache he­li­copter gun­ships – weapons it has used in its years-long bat­tle against militants wag­ing an in­sur­gency in the north­ern Si­nai Penin­sula.

“To be fair to Cairo, there are op­por­tu­ni­ties that they’re pur­su­ing with the United States,” Mr Cooper said. “We’ve had a strate­gic re­la­tion­ship with Egypt for years. Egypt has cer­tainly been a provider and guar­an­tor of re­gional se­cu­rity ... there are other neigh­bours of Egypt that are ap­pre­cia­tive of what they’ve pro­vided in counter-ter­ror­ism. We en­cour­age Egypt to con­sider how they have been suc­cess­ful.”

Mr El Sisi, who has been in of­fice since 2014, has also cul­ti­vated close po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic re­la­tions with China, Rus­sia, West­ern Europe and sub-Sa­ha­ran African na­tions as part of a more bal­anced for­eign pol­icy than was the case un­der Hosni Mubarak.

Op­po­si­tion to the pro­posed Su-35 pur­chase emerged last week. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port in The Wall Street Jour­nal, US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo told Egypt’s de­fence min­is­ter that Cairo would face sanc­tions if it went ahead with a $2bn deal to buy more than 20 of the Rus­sian jets.

“Ma­jor new arms deals with Rus­sia would – at a min­i­mum – com­pli­cate fu­ture US de­fence trans­ac­tions with and se­cu­rity as­sis­tance to Egypt,” Mr Pom­peo said in a let­ter seen by the WSJ. There has been no com­ment on the leaked let­ter from the Egyp­tian gov­ern­ment or in lo­cal me­dia.

The sanc­tions are stip­u­lated un­der the Coun­ter­ing of Amer­ica’s Ad­ver­saries Through Sanc­tions Act. A case study of how the law will be ap­plied is the re­cent pur­chase by Turkey, a Nato mem­ber, of a Rus­sian-made S-400 air de­fence sys­tem.

“It is not clear ex­actly what will hap­pen,” Michael Hanna, se­nior re­search fel­low at the Cen­tury Foun­da­tion, New York, said of the Turkey case.

“But it could be a big prob­lem for Egypt-US re­la­tions if the Egyp­tians go ahead with the Su-35 deal. There will most likely be sanc­tions.”

Mr Hanna said that al­though Rus­sia of­fered Egypt a trou­ble-free al­liance, it could not

re­place the US as the coun­try’s chief for­eign backer.

Egypt’s pur­suit of the Su-35 is be­cause of the US re­fusal to sell it the ad­vanced F-35 stealth fighter, he said.

“There is an affin­ity on poli­cies be­tween Rus­sia and Egypt that makes things work, like their rigid ap­proach to mil­i­tancy and their poli­cies on Syria and Libya. But, un­like with the United States, Egypt must pay for what it gets from Rus­sia.”

“Rus­sia lacks the re­sources that Egypt needs, while Egypt lacks the cash to pay for what Rus­sia has to of­fer,” Rus­sia ex­pert Eu­gene Rumer of the Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace said in a pa­per pub­lished last month.

“Egypt’s de­pen­dence on the United States pre­vents it from of­fer­ing Rus­sia the strate­gic ac­cess and geopo­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence it seeks. As a re­sult, there is less to the Moscow-Cairo part­ner­ship than good-na­tured dec­la­ra­tions could lead one to be­lieve.”

Egypt was Moscow’s clos­est Arab ally in the 1950s and 1960s, ef­fec­tively sid­ing with the Soviet Union against the US dur­ing the Cold War years.

In a surprise move, pres­i­dent An­war Sa­dat in 1972 ex­pelled thou­sands of Soviet mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers and their fam­i­lies, ar­gu­ing that Moscow was not do­ing enough to help the Egyp­tians mil­i­tar­ily.

A year later, Egypt and Is­rael went to war and the road was paved for Wash­ing­ton to re­place Moscow as the dom­i­nant for­eign power in the Mid­dle East.

Egypt has been the sec­ond-largest re­cip­i­ent of US aid since sign­ing a peace treaty with Is­rael in 1979. But re­la­tions soured in 2013 when the Barack Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pub­licly op­posed the re­moval from power by the mil­i­tary, then led by Mr El Sisi, of Mohammed Morsi, a pres­i­dent who hailed from the Mus­lim Brother­hood.

Mr El Sisi has since forged a close friend­ship with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin – they have met three times this year – and they have over­seen a sig­nif­i­cant ex­pan­sion in en­ergy and trade ties.

Rus­sia’s grow­ing re­la­tions with Egypt are part of Moscow’s ex­pand­ing foothold in the Mid­dle East, whose defin­ing fea­ture is its mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Syria’s civil war in late 2015.

Egypt was the Soviet Union’s clos­est Arab ally in the 1950s and 1960s

Egypt is re­port­edly plan­ning to buy more than 20 of the Rus­sian­made Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets

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