Egypt to sign nuclear pact with Russia

In shadow of Iran, Israel watches, but has low-key response to Sunni state's interest in nukes.

korea nuclear 88 (photo credit:)
korea nuclear 88
(photo credit: )
Russia and Egypt are expected to sign a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement this week that will boost Cairo's efforts to join a string of Sunni countries keen on developing nuclear potential and that government officials in Jerusalem believe is intended in part to offset Iran's nuclear program. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak traveled to Moscow for a two-day visit Monday, and the Russian wire service RIA Novosti quoted Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit as saying that the agreement would be signed during the visit. The news service quoted Gheit as saying, "This agreement will enable Egypt to use Russia's extensive experience in the peaceful use of nuclear energy." According to the report, a source in Egypt's Electricity and Energy Ministry said earlier that the document would lay the foundation for nuclear energy cooperation between Egypt and Russia and would strengthen relations between Russian companies and Egypt. However, the report said, the agreement would not automatically mean that Russian companies would build nuclear power plants in Egypt. "Companies will be selected at an international tender to be announced by the Egyptian government at the end of the year," the source was quoted as saying. An Israeli government source said Jerusalem would have no public or formal comment on the deal, and that in principle Israel had no objection to Egypt's acquiring nuclear technology as long as Egypt was a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it is, and as long as it would be under ironclad supervision and regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Israel, the official said, could not object to another country's wanting nuclear energy, as long as it was under tight regulation and supervision. Egypt currently has two small research reactors. According to a report by the German news service DPA, the Egyptian independent daily Al-Masri al-Youmquoted an Egyptian source as saying last week that the US was opposed to a potential nuclear cooperation deal between Moscow and Cairo. The DPA report said US Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman, during a visit to Cairo in January, discussed Egypt's joining the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), a program whereby the US seeks to work with other countries to reprocess spent nuclear fuel for peaceful uses. Israel's low-key response on Monday was similar to its response last October when Mubarak announced a plan to build several nuclear power plants, a move that was heralded at the time in the Egyptian press as a major national project. Israel also refrained from issuing a response when French President Nicolas Sarkozy went to Morocco in October and pledged that France would help that country build a civil nuclear energy industry, or when Yemen signed an agreement in September with a US company to build nuclear plants over the next 10 years. Indeed, over the last year, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, the UAE, Yemen, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt have indicated an interest in developing nuclear programs, with Israeli officials saying that if these countries did not want the programs now for nuclear capabilities, they wanted the technology in place to keep "other options open" if Iran developed a bomb. Israel, though monitoring the developments, has been careful not to take a public stand, partly because as one of the few countries in the world that has not signed the NPT, Jerusalem is not keen on lobbying against nuclear know-how for peaceful needs going to countries that are willing to sign the treaty, something that would focus the limelight on its own unique situation. In a related development, meanwhile, Turkey on Monday asked for bids on the construction of its first nuclear power plant at the Mediterranean port city of Mersin, a government agency said. Bids would be accepted until September 24, Turkey's electricity agency said in a written announcement. The government would guarantee that it would buy all the electricity produced by the nuclear plant. Turkey has experienced frequent cuts this winter of its natural gas supplies from Iran and Azerbaijan. Power plants fueled by natural gas produce nearly half of Turkey's electricity output. Turkey, a NATO member, imports most of its natural gas from Russia and Iran. Nuclear power is one of the best options Turkey has, Energy Minister Hilmi Guler has said. Guler said nuclear power should supply 20 percent of Turkey's energy needs within the next two decades, allowing the country to decrease its reliance on imported gas. Another spot on the Black Sea coast - Inceburun, in Sinop province - is planned for a second nuclear plant. AP contributed to this report.