Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has announced his intent for his country to buy two French Mistral helicopter carriers after their sale to Russia was cancelled in August, French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll has said.
Both presidents “have agreed on the principles and terms of the acquisition by Egypt of the two Mistral warships,” according to the statement.
The deal was discussed during a high-profile meeting between the French and Egyptian delegations in Paris, and the final decision reached was announced by the French president’s office on Wednesday, but the cost of the deal has not been made public yet.
"I completely refute what has been indicated by some that there will be a loss with regard this agreement compared to the hypothesis of a sale to Russia," Le Foll told reporters.
La Tribune newspaper had reported earlier that several countries showed interest in purchasing the amphibious carriers, which were originally built for the Russians.
The interested parties included Canada, India, Singapore and Egypt.
Prior to the agreement reached on Wednesday by Egypt and France, negotiations between the two sides almost broke down last week, as Paris and Cairo could not agree on a price for the two vessels, as reported by La Tribune newspaper.
In 2011, a contract for two Mistrals was first signed by France’s DCNS/STX and Russia’s Rosoboronexport in 2011, which was approved at the time by France’s then-president, Nicolas Sarkozy.
The contract stated that the two French helicopter carriers would be delivered to Russia, the first in 2014 and the second in 2015 and that Russia was to partly construct the vessel hulls and provide its own military electronic equipment for the warships.
However, the French government came under intense political pressure from the US and its European allies following Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, leading to Paris’ termination of the contract - worth €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion).
On Aug. 5, both the French and Russian presidencies released statements confirming an agreed upon settlement deal, in which France would compensate Russia with €949.7 million to conclude the matter which corresponds to advance payments paid by Russia for the purchase of the two French vessels.
If the agreement had gone ahead successfully, it would have been one of the biggest arms sales ever to have taken place between Russia and a NATO member.
An anonymous source told Reuters in August that any deal with Egypt would likely be partially financed by the Gulf Arab states, since Egypt and Saudi Arabia agreed at the end of July to create a joint Arab military force.
A diplomatic source told Reuters that Cairo wanted to base one of the Mistral ships, which can hold up to 16 helicopters and 1,000 troops, in the Mediterranean and another in the Red Sea, to be ready for future operations in Yemen, where Egypt is taking part in a Saudi-led coalition battling Houthi militant groups.
Last year, Egypt last bought four small Gowind warships, which were built by Mistral manufacturer DCNS which is 64 percent owned by the French state and 35 percent by defence group Thales.
In addition, earlier this year, Cairo acquired a Fremm frigate as part of a 5.2 billion euro contract for 24 Rafale warplanes, which was France's first overseas export of the fighter jet.