Russia and Egypt sign nuclear energy pact

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

NOVO-OGARYOVO: Russia and Egypt signed an agreement on Tuesday paving the way for Russian firms to bid for lucrative contracts to build nuclear power plants in Egypt.

The nuclear energy deal was signed after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak met near the Russian capital for talks, which also covered Moscow’s plan to host a Middle East peace conference.

“Egypt, in cooperation with its international partners and the International Atomic Energy Agency is going to develop this (nuclear energy) sector, including through the agreement we have just signed,” Mubarak told reporters.

Egypt wants up to four nuclear power stations and an international tender to build the first of them may come as early as this year. Tuesday’s agreement clears the way for Russia’s state nuclear contractor to bid for work.

The Kremlin is lobbying hard for nuclear contracts abroad because it sees the industry as a high-technology sector it must develop, to reduce its dependence on oil and gas exports.

Russia is already building nuclear reactors worth $1.5 billion to $2 billion apiece in Iran, China and India.

Planned Middle East peace talks: Putin also said his officials were consulting with the United States and Middle East countries about hosting a regional peace conference in Moscow.

Russia is a member of the quartet of Middle East mediators with the US, United Nations and European Union.

The Kremlin is seeking a bigger mediation role, as it tries to re-establish itself as a Middle East power broker, a role it largely lost when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said while on a tour of the Middle East last week that the Moscow conference would follow up the US-hosted meeting in Annapolis late last year that restarted Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

But Putin indicated he saw the Moscow conference as distinct from Annapolis, signalling Russia did not plan to play a junior role to the US in the peace process.

“If this conference happens, we want it to be a Moscow conference by definition,” he said. “A meeting such as this should be an event in its own right.”

He said he and the Egyptian leader were concerned about violence in the Gaza Strip between the Islamist Hamas movement and Israeli forces. “Taking into account growing Israeli-Palestinian tensions, we believe there is a need for a mediatory role from Egypt and Russia.”

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