The United States and Egypt are making steady progress toward an agreement for use of the Red Sea base at Ras Banas by the Rapid Deployment Force or other U.S. troops, according to the Egyptian defense minister, Lt. Gen. Mohammed Abu Ghazala.
Ghazala, interviewed here during a round of meetings with Reagan administration officials, said an agreement for U.S. use of Ras Banas facilities may be concluded, perhaps in an exchange of letters, even before the expected Washington visit of President Anwar Sadat this summer.
Ras Banas, across the Red Sea from the west coast of Saudi Arabia, is the Egyptian base by far best suited to the projection of American military power in the Persian Gulf, Ghazala argued.He made clear that Egypt continues to oppose U.S. use for this purpose of the Sinai air bases at Etzion and Eitam scheduled to be returned by Israel next year under the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
U.S. officials have spoken of a need to spend large sums to make Ras Banas suitable for American military use. Ghazala said Egypt expects the United States to pay for lengthened runways and deeper port facilities which may be needed for American planes and ships but are unnecessary for present Egyptian equipment.
The main Washington business of the Egyptian minister was an appeal for additional U.S. weaponry to counter potential threats seen by Cairo from hostile arms buildups in Libya, Southern Yemen and other nearby areas.
The Department of Defense, in a communique following meetings with Ghazala, said yuesterday that the United States has agreed to speed up the delivery of weapons previously ordered by Egypt, which include F16 fighters and M60 tanks, and to consider a five-year modernization plan for the Egyptian armed forces. The only immediate speedup will be on the tank order, U.S. sources said.
Ghazala said that the new shopping list he brought from Cairo includes requests for Grumman E2C electronic surveillance planes (smaller version of the AWACS radar and "hundreds" of new tanks. He said the $900 million in planned U.S. military aid this year is not enough, and expressed optimism that Washington will be more forthcoming in a new "long term" military relationship which includes the virtual reequipping of the Egyptian armed forces.
Libya has a 2-to-1-edge over Egypt in numbers and sophistication of military equipment and is "a real threat," Ghazala said. He said Libyan leader Muammar Qaddaffy, who has been in Moscow in recent days, "has the money, the equipment, access to a superpower, aid from others and a crazy dream of an empire in his head." Knowing that Egypt is militarily weaker, "who is going to stop him" from threatening or even attacking Egypt, Ghazala asked.
The Egyptian minister expressed particular concern about a buildup of sophisticated aircraft and trained pilots in Libya. He said the Libyans have 425 Mig23, Mig25, French Mirage and other modern aircraft and about 350 foreign pilots, including 50 Russians, 50 Cubans, 40 Syrians and an unspecified number of East Germans and North Koreans.
"Almost 5,000" Cubans in Libya, plus the presence of Cuban combat divisions in Angola and Ethiopia, create the possibility of "a large number" of communist divisions showing up there on short notice, according to Ghazala. o