US Publicly Acknowledges Concern over Egypt's No-Dong
For the first time, the Bush administration has publicly expressed concern over the prospect that Egypt has developed a No-Dong-class intermediate-range missile with North Korean help, according to the Middle East Newsline (MENL).
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. The officials said the State Department was taking the lead on the issue.
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.
But the subject was changed by Rep. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat. Sherman complained that US military aid to Egypt was unnecessary and directed by Cairo toward a military buildup against Israel.
Egypt receives $1.3 billion in US military aid a year and Sherman said that over the last eight years, Cairo had spent $5 billion on a military buildup, according to the report.
"Is this level of military spending something that we should encourage or subsidize, and what is the state of talks between Egypt and North Korea regarding the acquisition of the No-Dong class missile with an 800-mile range?" Sherman said.
"And does it make sense for us to be providing money to Egypt if they spend this fungible money on something like an 800-mile-range missile?"
Burns did not deny Sherman's assertion or plead ignorance, said the report. Instead, the assistant secretary acknowledged the concern and urged Sherman to resume the exchange in a closed session.
US defense sources monitoring the program have said that said Cairo is being blocked by the United States from obtaining key components and engines required to develop a missile based on North Korea's No-Dong.
The sources told MENL that Washington had pressured Egypt to suspend plans to import 50 engines from Pyongyang needed for the first series of missiles.
The Egyptian-North Korean missile cooperation is said to have topped the agenda of talks by a visiting Egyptian Defense Ministry delegation with key members of the House and Senate earlier this year.
The delegation spent three days in Washington in an effort to persuade Congress that Egypt had abandoned any plans to produce a No-Dong variant.
The second phase -- planned for conclusion this year -- was said to have included production of tubes and guidance systems as well as additional North Korean engines.
The third phase was to have involved assembling the missiles and producing engines.
Earlier in July, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak denied US intelligence reports that his country aimed to produce the 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 were quoted by MENL as saying 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.
The news service also reported then that Mubarak appeared "relieved" over initial congressional approval to continue US military aid to Egypt.
The issue was being pressed by several Republican leaders in the House and Senate who expressed dismay over Egypt's "human rights violations" as well as efforts to develop the intermediate-range missiles.
US officials reported that North Korea had tested an engine used in the long-range Taepo Dong-1 missile program. A recent test was said to have been the most significant development in North Korea's missile development program since 1998, said MENL.
Each year, Egypt receives $1.3 billion in US military aid and about $630 million in civilian aid – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)