Sunday, November 22, 2015

Egypt's Foreign Minister Dismisses Notion of Possible Russian Military Intervention in Sinai
Menna Alaa El-Din
Sunday 22 Nov 2015

Sameh Shoukry also discussed Ethiopia's controversial Grand Renaissance Dam, Egypt's stance on Syria, and other key issues in a television interview

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry dismissed the notion of possible Russian military intervention to target terrorists in Sinai that according to Moscow brought down a Russian airliner over the Egyptian peninsula, killing all 224 people on board on 31 October.

However, Shoukry said in an interview with privately-owned CBC television channel that Russia and Egypt are currently cooperating against terrorism, which he insisted would continue and take several forms, including exchange of intelligence information.

The interview comes nearly a week after Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia will act in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter, which provides for countries’ right to self-defence.

Shoukry also brushed aside reports that Russia sent security personnel to secure the Russian embassy in Cairo.

“Egypt is a sovereign state within its borders. Article 51 does not apply on a country that enjoys sovereignty, has a legitimate government, and has a security apparatus that is able to fulfil its security mission responsibly," he said.

"When Egypt hit Islamic State positions in Libya [following the execution of 21 Egyptians in February 2015], Egypt coordinated with the legitimate Libyan government upon its request."

Shoukry denied reports that Russia, the UK and the US provided intelligence to the Egyptian state that confirmed the plane was ripped apart by an improvised explosive device.

"Egypt still took this possibility seriously and therefore took the necessary security procedures needed to secure airports appropriately," he said, before reiterating thatthe country's investigating committee wants to be provided such information so it can be added into its investigation.

According to Shoukry, Egypt has sought to excuse "friends", including the UK, which have suspended flights to Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh, saying Cairo understands their fears over their nationals’ safety.

“We have therefore made an initiative and invited our friends, for their expertise in securing airports,” Shoukry said.

In a precautionary move On 4 November, Britain suspended all flights to and from Sharm El-Sheikh because of concerns that the Russian plane that crashed over Egypt’s Sinai may have been downed by a bomb.

The UK’s decision to suspend all flights and bring nationals home from Sharm El-Sheikh came during President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s arrival in London on his first official visit to Britain since he took office in 2014, a move portrayed as "embarrassing" to the Egyptian side.

Shoukry said he didn’t portray it as embarrassing, saying that the visit gave El-Sisi a "chance to raise the Egyptian vision regarding the crash, and to assure UK citizens of the security procedures that are currently being undertaken, and were taken 10 months ago as well."

“A cancellation of the visit wasn’t going to bring any benefit for Egypt, but it would have created tension, while all indications regarding the visit were actually welcoming from the British side,” Shoukry said.

The Egyptian side was informed of the British decision to suspend flights as soon as Sisi arrived in the UK.

“David Cameron expressed his regret over shortcomings related to the accident due to media concentration on the crash and terrorism. He explained the political justifications, affirming that the decision was separated from the UK’s desire to support and push forward the Egyptian-UK relationship,” Shoukry said.

Russia, Ireland, the US, France, Germany are all participating in separate investigations related to the crash.

Shoukry said that the Egyptian investigating committee is putting that into consideration, affirming its independence.

Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam

On the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam, Shoukry said there is still no movement on the technical assessment side, an entitlement set out in the March 2014 Declaration of Principles signed by the leaders of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in an effort to put an end to a four-year dispute over Nile water sharing arrangements among Nile Basin countries.

Shoukry said a meeting between the foreign ministers and irrigation ministers of the three countries concerned will be held to assess the situation.

“Every state has pressure cards or an ability to influence. However, in this situation, there is a shared wish for close cooperation and a new relationship that is built on collaboration, non-harm, and the recognition of the interests of the three countries," Shoukry stated.

He added that Egypt won’t get into accusations that would complicate relations.

“The goal that El-Sisi and Ethiopian PM Hailemariam Desalegn put was a principle of acknowledgement of the right of development for Ethiopia and an acknowledgment of not harming Egypt’s interests."

The tenth round of talks on Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam, scheduled to take place 21-23 November, has been postponed until the end of the month.

“There’s no possibility for us to keep going in closed circles. We’ll deal with the issue on a realistic and truthful basis relative to other countries’ interests as long as they also show the same readiness,” Shoukry said.


Shoukry also played down signs of an emerging crisis between Egypt and Sudan following media reports that a Sudanese citizen was tortured in an Egyptian police station.

He said he had met with the Sudanese ambassador in Cairo to affirm Egypt’s keenness on good relations with Sudan.

“I reassured him that there was no kind of targeting, but there was care and attention provided to our Sudanese brothers in Egypt. If there was any kind of violation, it would be an individual one,” Shoukry explained.

He asked the ambassador to deliver his message to the Sudanese parliament, which has expressed anger over the case.

Syria, Iran, Qatar

On Egypt’s foreign policy with Syria, Shoukry said that the whole situation became about a "nation that is in agony, and not about a specific person leaving or staying," referring to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

“Egypt can’t withstand seeing this happen to Syria, a country with such a status among Arab nations and national security. A state half of whose population fled, with quarter of a million killed,” Shoukry added.

He said that there is an international consensus that the only way out of the crisis would be through a political framework, one that would lead to the formation of a transitional government that would include the national Syrian opposition, fighting terrorism and paving the way to elections that would be representative of the Syrian population's wishes for the future.

When asked whether Egypt’s stance remains vague among participants in the Vienna international and regional ministerial meeting on Syria, Shoukry said the country's stanceis the only one that is "without interests and never changing from the beginning."

“Egypt is working with all sides, but with no interests but the interests of the Syrian people,” Shoukry clarified.

He said that Egypt’s stance on Syria is not causing it problems with Saudi Arabia, one of Egypt’s most important allies and a firm advocate of the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

“Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia coordinate with each other regarding the Syrian crisis. All Egypt's expressed viewpoints on Syria came following talks between both countries,” Shoukry said.

However, the Egyptian foreign minister indicated that there shouldn’t necessarily always be a unified and consistent vision between Egypt and Saudi Arabia towards any particular case.

“The goal is shared, but if there is some kind of concentration from a state on an aspect, and another from another [state], this doesn’t put us in a conflict between each other,” Shoukry added.

On Iran, Shoukry said there was no intention of restoring diplomatic relations with the country, adding that Egypt has given its vision regarding certain regional cases, including the protection of Arab national security, Gulf States, and situation in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria.

On Egypt’s relationship with Qatar, Shoukry repeated President El-Sisi’s announcement that the relationship with Qatar is "not improving." He dismissed reports of mediation taking place to bring the two countries together.

Qatari-Egyptian relations soured after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi and the crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood group. Egypt accuses Qatar of supporting the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood.

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