Saturday, 14 February 2015

Egypt ends US arms 'monopoly' with French jet fighter deal

Egypt ends US arms 'monopoly' with French jet fighter deal
Rafale fighter jets. (Reuters photo)

CAIRO: Egypt's decision to buy 24 Rafale jet fighters from France underscores its determination to diversify its sources of weapons and reduce its dependence on the United States, experts said. 

The 5.2-billion-euro ($5.9 billion) deal is a historic first foreign sale of the Rafale for France, which is set to sign the contract in the Egyptian capital on Monday. 

Rights group Amnesty International has criticised the sale of the jets and a frigate to a nation that it has accused of "alarming" human rights abuses. 

The United States — a long-time strategic partner of Egypt, to which it gives about $1.5 billion in aid each year including roughly $1.3 billion in military assistance — has played down the impact of the sale. 

"Egypt is a sovereign country," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday. "We have our own security relationship, so I wouldn't say there's a concern from this end." 

US-Egyptian relations have been strained since the military deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 and launched a brutal crackdown on his supporters. 

Morsi, the country's first freely elected head of state, was toppled by then army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi following massive protests against his controversial one-year rule. 

Sisi was elected president in May 2014 with 96.91 percent of the vote. More than 1,400 people have died in the crackdown on Morsi supporters. Thousands have been imprisoned and hundreds sentenced to death, while Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood has been branded a "terrorist" organisation and banned. 

The brutal repression of Morsi supporters prompted Washington to freeze part of its aid to Cairo in October 2013 and demand that Egypt implement democratic reforms. 

"The contract (with France) is an implicit message to the United States signifying that Egypt will no longer count exclusively on US weapon supplies," said retired Egyptian army general Mohammed Mujahid al-Zayyat. 

Egypt no longer wants to be "blackmailed" in its relations with the United States, said Zayyat, an expert with the Cairo-based National Centre for Middle East Studies. 

US officials "have their own views as to how the Egyptian army should be rebuilt and reject the army's belief that Israel is its key enemy," he added. 

Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 but relations between the two neighbours have never been fully developed and remain frosty over Israeli policies towards the Palestinians. 

Washington has tried to balance its defence relationship with criticism of alleged human rights violations by the Egyptian government. 

It recently delivered to Cairo a shipment of Apache helicopter gunships, supposedly for use in counterterrorism operations, while also denouncing mass convictions of Sisi's opponents. 

Military expert and retired army officer Ahmed Abdel Halim said Egypt was being held "hostage" by Washington because of its human rights record, and needed to diversify its sources of weaponry. 

"The diversification of the supply of weapons and technology is aimed at dissuading any country from exercising a monopoly over Egypt or of trying to blackmail it," he said. 

Abdel Halim, a former president of the national security commission at the Egyptian senate, said Egypt would continue to import weapons from the United States, as well as France and "maybe even China". 

Russia, he said, could be another key supplier. Russian President Vladimir Putin, a key non-Arab backer of Sisi, paid a landmark visit to Cairo this week. 

The two leaders agreed a deal for Moscow to build Egypt's first ever nuclear power plant to produce electricity. 

They also agreed on "further military cooperation between our two countries given the current circumstances" in Egypt, said Sisi, who visited Russia twice last year to discuss Russian weapon supplies. 

Egypt is fighting an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula and also fears that the chaos in neighbouring Libya, where powerful militias are battling for territory, could spread across the border. 

"Egypt will continue to buy weapons from the Americans but it will also buy them from Russia, and this was clear during Putin's visit to Cairo," said Arab affairs expert Mathieu Guidere. 

That "will put Egypt in a better position vis-a-vis the Americans," he said.

Pakistan, China agree on need to maintain south Asia strategic balance

Pakistan, China agree on need to maintain south Asia strategic balance

PTI | Feb 14, 2015, 09.20 PM IST

Pakistan, China agree on need to maintain south Asia strategic balance
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi.
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and China have agreed on the need for maintaining strategic balance in South Asia as top officials from both sides discussed bilateral and regional issues during Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi's visit here.

The issue of regional situation figured in the delegation-level talks between Sartaj Aziz, the advisor to the prime minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, and the Chinese foreign minister, who led a seven-member delegation.

"In the delegation-level talks between the advisor and the Chinese foreign minister, the two sides reviewed all aspects of the bilateral relationship," Pakistan's foreign office said in a statement issued at the conclusion of Wang's two-day trip on Friday.

"The two sides also took stock of regional developments and agreed on the need for maintaining strategic balance in South Asia," it said.

Besides discussing bilateral and regional matters, the two sides also held talks on the United Nations Security Council.

"Both sides agreed on the need to make United Nations Security Council more representative and effective, and that its reform should be achieved by consensus," it said.

They agreed that work on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and its related projects should be expedited to ensure that Early Harvest Projects could be operationalised at the earliest.

Aziz reiterated Pakistan's commitment to fostering a peaceful neighbourhood in order to achieve its economic and development objectives. The two leaders welcomed the continuing cooperation between Pakistan and China for the promotion of peace and prosperity in Afghanistan.

This was Wang's first official visit to Pakistan as the foreign minister and its main purpose was to prepare for the upcoming visit of the President Xi Jinping at an early date this year.

During the visit, the Chinese foreign minister called on President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

He also held meetings with Aziz and General Raheel Sharif, the chief of the army staff.

At a special investiture ceremony at the 'Aiwan-e-Sadr', President Hussain conferred the 'Hilal-e-Pakistan' civilian award on Wang in recognition of his invaluable contribution to the promotion of relations between Pakistan and China.

Wang also attended the launch of '2015 Pakistan-China Year of Friendly Exchanges', co-hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad.

The inaugural ceremony was attended by several federal ministers, chief minister of Punjab and other dignitaries and Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Speaker National Assembly, was the chief guest on the occasion.

During the Year of Friendly Exchanges, Pakistan and China have planned a series of activities in the parliamentary, cultural, education, media, business, and other spheres to further strengthen their strategic partnership and 'all-weather friendship'.