Cairo - Egypt's foreign minister sought to downplay
speculation of a major shift in his country's foreign policy, saying during a
top-level Russian visit on Thursday that Moscow was too important to be a
substitute for the United States as Cairo's key ally and backer.
The remarks by Nabil Fahmy came after talks with his
visiting counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who is leading the Russian delegation to
"We look forward to co-operation with Russia in
multiple fields and that is because of Russia's significance in the
international arena," Fahmy said at a news conference. "We look
forward to strong, continuous and stable relations with Russia. We seek to
energise a relation that is already in existence."
When asked whether Russia would replace the US as his
country's chief ally, Fahmy said Egypt was not looking for a "substitute
"Russia's weight is too heavy to be a substitute for
anyone," he said.
The Russian visit comes as Egypt's relationship with the
United States - Cairo's main foreign backer and benefactor since the 1970s -
has become increasingly strained in the wake of the popularly-backed coup that
deposed an elected president, the Islamist Mohammed Morsi of Egypt's Muslim
Egypt was Moscow's closest Arab ally for two decades,
starting in the 1950s, with the Soviet Union throwing its weights behind the
late nationalist leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser in his ambitious drive to modernize
the Arab nation and create a well-armed military at the height of the Cold War
and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
But in 1972, then-President Anwar Sadat threw out thousands
of Soviet military advisers and realigned the country's foreign policy, taking
his nation closer to the United States soon after the 1973 Mideast war.
Multi-billion dollar weapons deal
Also, Egypt's relations with the Soviet Union took a marked
turn for the worse after Moscow's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, but
relations have steadily improved in recent years, with hundreds of thousands of
Russians vacationing in Egypt every year.
The Russian delegation in Cairo is Moscow's highest-level
visit in years and also includes Russia's defence minister, Sergei Shoigu,
whose presence has set off rumours of an arms deal in the making.
Fahmy said he, Lavrov, Shigu and Egyptian Defence Minister
Gen. Abdelk-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the July coup that ousted Morsi, would
jointly meet later on Thursday.
The United States last month froze a big chunk of its annual
$1.3bn military aid to Egypt. The move angered the Egyptians and prompted
speculations in the local media that Egypt intended to sign a multi-billion
dollar weapons deal with Russia. But there has so far been no official word
from Cairo or Moscow on such a deal.
The Interfax news agency recently quoted an unidentified
official of the state Rosoboronexport arms trader as saying that there are no
plans to sign any contracts during the Cairo talks.
It said Egypt has shown interest in purchasing Russian air defence
missile systems and MiG-29 fighter jets, combat helicopters and other weapons.
But it quoted an unnamed official dealing with arms trade as saying that no big
deals are expected in the near future as Egypt currently can't afford it.
At the news conference, Lavrov said Russia stands to gain
from the return of stability to Egypt, a reference to the turmoil roiling the
country since the ouster in the 2011 uprising of staunch US ally Hosni