US to Keep Egypt’s Arsenal Under Observation
The US administration is planning to establish a new mechanism to better coordinate US arms sales to Egypt and to more efficiently monitor Egyptian acquisitions of advanced weapons technology, a senior administration official told the Jerusalem Post.
He said that the move followed a dispute between the US and Egypt over the latter's efforts, according to the CIA and others, to develop and produce ballistic missiles with North Korea's help.
Egypt has denied that such a program exists, though the issue is repeatedly raised in meetings between senior US and Egyptian officials and has become a sore point in the allies' bilateral relationship, said the official.
Earlier in July, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak denied US intelligence reports that his country aimed to produce intermediate-range missiles.
In the first public reference to the matter by the president, Mubarak said his regime was not interested in what he termed long-range missiles.
Mubarak told the Al Mussawar magazine that Egypt had no use for such a program, because Cairo did not harbor hostile intentions toward any country.
Western diplomatic sources said Mubarak relayed a similar message during his visit to Washington in March. At the time, Mubarak met President George Bush, senior administration officials and congressional leaders.
According to a report by the Middle East Newsline (MENL) on July 31, the Bush administration publicly expressed, for the first time, its concern over the prospect that Egypt had developed a No-Dong-class intermediate-range missile with North Korean help.
Administration officials have acknowledged that the No-Dong issue has become a flashpoint between Cairo and Washington, as well as between the White House and Congress.
Assistant Secretary of State William Burns was asked about Egypt on Thursday during a hearing of the House International Relations subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. The subject of the hearing was US policy toward the Palestinians, said the news service.
The official told the Jerusalem Post that the dispute over Egypt's alleged attempts to acquire the North Korean No-Dong class missile with a 1,200km range “highlighted the need for better coordination.”
"Recent events including [Congressman Tom] Lantos's [D-California] interest in developments [on North Korean-Egyptian coordination] led us to think we've got to get this in a more regular channel so there aren't any surprises. And we think this is a good way to do it and we think the Egyptians agree with that," the senior administration official said.
Lantos and other legislators have repeatedly raised the issue with the administration.
The US official said the administration was planning by this fall to set up a "better channel of discussions with the Egyptians at a slightly more political level" to replace the "ad hoc" system that exists now.
He said the mechanism would resemble the formal strategic discussions that the US holds with allies like Israel or Japan.
"I think that would allow us to have a better understanding of what we want to sell them and what we don't want to sell them and hopefully to find out more what they are purchasing from others."
The official said the US delegation would include representatives from the State Department and Pentagon, and anticipated that the better coordination would also help ease some of Israel's concerns about US arms sales to Egypt.
Although Egypt and Israel have a peace agreement, Israel sometimes frets about US arms sales to countries in the region that could threaten its currently overwhelming military superiority.
It also fears that advanced US arms sold to countries like Egypt could be “resold to hostile Arab countries,” said the paper.
But Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer had said that Israel "does not feel threatened by Egypt’s plans to acquire North Korean missiles.”
Egypt receives roughly $1.3 billion in military aid and about $700 million in economic assistance each year from the US.
It is the largest recipient of conventional US military and economic aid after Israel – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)