- Associated Press - Monday, April 12, 2021

CAIRO (AP) - The foreign ministers of Egypt and Russia discussed trade and other ties between the two nations Monday, with Egypt’s top diplomat urging Moscow to help settle Egypt’s dispute with Ethiopia over a massive dam project.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Cairo on Sunday for a two-day visit. He met Monday with President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi before his talks with Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry.

In a joint news conference with Shukry, Lavrov said they discussed the implementation of joint mega projects. They included a four-reactor power plant that a Russian firm is building in Egypt and a Russian industrial zone. Russian companies are expected to invest up to $7 billion in building industrial plants in the Suez Canal area.

The two ministers said they also discussed regional conflicts in Libya, Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian cause along with political stalemate in Lebanon.

They discussed a massive dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile River’s main tributary, which Egypt and Sudan deem a major threat if it is filled and operated without a legally binding agreement.

“We also rely on Russia … to push parties to refrain from unilateral actions,” Shukry said, referring to Ethiopia’s plans to start a second crucial stage of the dam’s filling during this year’s rainy season.

Lavrov said Russia was not invited to engage in the talks between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, but has supported an African Union-led settlement to the yearslong dispute.

The Russian minister did not address when Moscow would resume direct flights to Egypt’s Red Sea resorts. However, he told Egypt’s state-run Ahram daily in an interview published Monday that he expected the flights would be resumed “soon.”

Flights were suspended when the Islamic State group downed a Russian airliner over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in 2015, killing all 224 people on board. Egypt has since spent millions of dollars to upgrade security at its airports and undergone numerous checks by Russian experts.

The suspension of Russian flights dealt a devastating blow to Egypt’s vital tourism industry, which had already been badly hit by the turmoil following a 2011 uprising.

A statement by el-Sissi’s office said the Egyptian president and Lavrov discussed “military and security” ties without providing details.

El-Sissi and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a partnership and strategic cooperation treaty in 2018, a document the Egyptian leader said should “open a new chapter in the history of our cooperation.”

The two leaders have developed a close personal rapport, and have sought to expand bilateral ties, which have strengthened considerably in the past few years.

Lavrov left for Tehran where is scheduled to meet with Iranian officials two days after an attack on Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear facility, according to Russia state-run media.

Cairo’s relations with the U.S. suffered a blow in 2013 when the Obama administration criticized the military overthrow of Egypt’s first freely elected leader amid mass protests against his rule.

In 2017, Egypt and Russia struck deals that allowed Cairo to buy billions of dollars’ worth of Russian weapons, including fighter jets and assault helicopters. They also signed a dead to have a Russian company build a nuclear reactor after Cairo agreed in principle to borrow $25 billion, or roughly 80% of the reactor’s cost, from Russia.

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