Cairo enters nuclear age: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will launch a formal visit to Moscow on Monday, during the course of which he will sign a cooperation agreement regarding the development of
nuclear power for civilian needs. In accordance with the framework of the agreement the Russians may construct an operational nuclear reactor on Egyptian soil.
Mubarak announced last October that Egypt was searching for contractors for the project, in which Cairo is expected to invest some $1.8 billion.
Russia, which is responsible for the Iranian nuclear plant in Bushehr and which recently signed a similar deal with Bulgaria, is determined to infiltrate the Egyptian market – which has thus far been dominated by France and the United States.
Mubarak is scheduled to meet with both outgoing president Vladimir Putin and his successor Dmitry Medvedev, who will take office on May 7.
Egyptian daily al-Masri al-Youm reported over the weekend that Washington is applying enormous pressure on Egypt not to sign the burgeoning deal. The report, attributing the comments to "sources in the know," said the US was actively trying to put obstacles in the path of nuclear cooperation between Russia and Egypt.
According to the sources, Washington is trying to gain ground with Egypt on the matter at hand so as to gain control of its nuclear plan and add the Egyptian program to the list of those under US supervision.
The report also asserted that the US had already thwarted a similar agreement during Mubarak's trip to Russian last year.
Reactor will be operational by 2017
A Russian delegation headed by Victor Khristenko, minister of industry and energy, visited Cairo last week to promote the deal. Mubarak met with the group and urged them to speed-up the project so as to provide an alternative energy source for fuel and gas. Egypt is also considering at least three tenders from other nations.
Officials in Egypt said the final decision on the matter will only be made in 2009. The reactor is scheduled to be operational by 2017.
Estimates indicate on the one hand that Egypt may be signaling that it is serious regarding the agreement with Russia, while other State officials believe Cairo's intent is to pressure Washington into stepping in and aiding it with its nuclear program.
Senior State officials have said that Israel has no objections to the development of civilian nuclear technology by friendly nations. "So long as friendly nations are the ones supplying the reactors and the fuel and the project is being monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency and cannot be used for military purposes – Israel has no problem with it," said one of the sources.
Roee Nahmias contributed to this report