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El-Sisi, Putin stress close ties, near arms deal

Egyptian president's visit to Russia is his first outside of the Arab world since being elected in June

Ahram Online , Tuesday 12 Aug 2014
Egypt's Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Russia's Vladimir Putin, 12 August 2014 (Photo courtesy of the Russian presidency
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Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi arrived early on Tuesday in the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi for a brief visit upon an invitation by his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, state news agency MENA reported.

This is El-Sisi's first visit to a foreign, non-Arab/African state since he was sworn in as president on 8 June after a landslide electoral victory.

In a press conference following their meeting, both leaders announced their plans for enhancing bilateral cooperation in the fields of trade, economy, investment and energy.

For his part, El-Sisi revealed that they discussed the establishment of an industrial zone in Egypt as part of the recently announced project to develop the Suez Canal.

El-Sisi added that there is another plan of "renewing and developing" giant projects established by the former Soviet Union.

Both leaders spoke of the latest developments in the Arab world, including truce efforts in the embattled Gaza Strip and growing violence in Syria, Libya and Iraq.

According to AFP, Moscow's Vedemosti business daily reported that Russia and Egypt are now nearing a $3 billion (2.2 billion euro) weapons agreement that will be financed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

El-Sisi paid a visit to Moscow in February when he was still Egypt's army chief, during which he negotiated an arms deal amid strained relations with Washington, which had held off parts of its annual assistance to Cairo following the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and a harsh crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood movement.

During the visit, Putin gave El-Sisi his backing to be elected as the country's president.

Reuters also reported on Tuesday that an agreement has been reached to increase Egypt's supply of agricultural goods to Russia by 30 percent, while Putin announced that his country will provide Egypt with 5 to 5.5 million tonnes of wheat. The Russian leader also reportedly said that a free trade zone is being discussed.

According to a statement published by the Russian presidency, Putin welcomed El-Sisi and affirmed that his visit stresses "the special nature" of the relation between the two countries.

"I am especially pleased to note that your visit to this country is practically your first trip outside the Arab world after your election to the post of president," Putin was quoted as saying.

According to the Russian statement, El-Sisi also pointed out that this is the first invitation he has received from a leader outside the Arab world.

"I would like to stress that the entire Egyptian people are following my visit to the Russian Federation and are expecting a lot of cooperation between our countries. Therefore, I believe we will meet the expectations of the Egyptian people," added El-Sisi.

Egypt had strong ties with Russia in the 1950s and 1960s, and the Soviet Union was the main supplier of arms to Egypt until the early 1970s. Relations soured after Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty bringing in some $1.3 billion in annual US military aid to Cairo in 1979.

Russia provides Egypt's tourism industry, significantly hammered by three years of political turmoil since the 2011 uprising, with over 40 percent of European tourists.

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