Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 October 2019

Russian influence looms over Trump’s summit with Egypt's Sisi

Washington is concerned about the Kremlin's growing role in the Middle East

The reported sale of Russian fighter jets to Egypt and Moscow’s growing influence in the region were on the agenda for US President Donald Trump’s meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El Sisi on Tuesday.

Mr Trump received Mr El Sisi for 95 minutes in the White House, his seventh meeting with the Egyptian leader, saying afterwards: "I think he is doing a great job.”

A senior US official said their discussions were expected to cover counterterrorism, arms sales, Egypt’s mediation in Gaza, the Egyptian government's record on human rights, minority and religious rights in Egypt, and the release of activists who hold US citizenship.

Egypt’s deepening ties with Russia are of concern to the US, to the extent that a senior official raised the prospect of sanctions if Cairo goes ahead with an arms deal with Moscow.

Russian media reported in March that Moscow was finalising a $2 billion (Dh7.35bn) deal to sell Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets to Egypt.

“In terms of the expanding Russian influence in the region, that’s obviously something which we are quite concerned about," a senior US official said.

The sale of the aircraft could trigger US sanctions, the official said. The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act 2017 aims to punish those who do business with some Russian intelligence and military entities.

Russia is "not a reliable partner for weapon sales", the official said. "We don't see a lot of material benefits to engagements with the Russians. You can look at Syria and see how that's going. I might also point you to Venezuela.”

The official said they hoped Egypt would pursue such deals with the US.

The US provides about $1bn in military aid to Egypt annually, in part for Cairo’s recognition of Israel at the Camp David Accords in 1979.

One issue important to Mr El Sisi that is unlikely to be fulfilled by Washington is the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.

In the aftermath of the Egyptian uprising of 2011, the group’s Mohammed Morsi won the country’s first ever democratic election in 2012.

But the next year he was removed, bringing former military leader Mr El Sisi into power.

Since then the Brotherhood has been outlawed and suppressed by the Egyptian government, which insists the group is a terrorist organisation.

The US official said Mr Trump’s meeting with Mr El Sisi was unlikely to focus on the designation of the Brotherhood but that discussions were continuing in the administration.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also met Mr El Sisi on Monday to discuss regional security, counterterrorism and Iran's regional influence.

Updated: April 10, 2019 09:55 AM