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Russian, Egyptian Presidents Discuss Bilateral Ties, Middle East Situation

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) prepares to shake hands with Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after giving a press conference following their talks at the presidential palace in the capital Cairo, on December 11.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has met with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo for talks on the two countries' expanding ties and regional issues.

Following his meeting with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on December 11, Putin said that Russia was ready in principle to resume direct passenger flights to Egypt and an agreement is expected to be signed in the near future

Russia suspended commercial flights to Egypt after a passenger plane carrying Russian vacationers back home from a Red Sea beach resort blew up over the Sinai Peninsula in October 2015, killing all 224 people on board. An affiliate of the extremist group Islamic State (IS) based in Sinai claimed responsibility.

Russian and Egyptian officials have held talks on boosting airport security and resuming air travel, but no deal has been reached so far.

During Putin's visit, Egypt and Russia signed an agreement to start work on Egypt's first nuclear power plant, state television showed.

Russian state nuclear company Rosatom said the Dabaa nuclear station on the Mediterranean coast will have four reactors and cost up to $21 billion with construction expected to finish in 2028-29.

Putin flew to Egypt after a previously unannounced visit to Syria, where he ordered the Russian military to start withdrawing its forces from the war-ravaged Middle Eastern country.

The Russian president is expected in Ankara later in the day for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on bilateral issues, including joint energy projects, as well as the conflict in Syria and the broader situation in the Middle East, the Kremlin said.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced last week his decision to recognize the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, sparking criticism from U.S. allies in Europe, the Middle East, and beyond which said it was not helpful for peace.

Egypt, Turkey, and Russia have all denounced Trump's decision. Putin and Erdogan voiced "serious concern" about it in a phone conversation on December 7, the Kremlin said.

Russia's major role in the war in Syria, where it has given President Bashar al-Assad's government crucial military backing, has increased its influence in the Middle East.

Putin has courted closer ties with Egypt and NATO-member Turkey as well as other countries in the region in recent years.

Russia and Turkey back different sides in the Syria war and their relations were severely strained after Turkish jets shot a Russian warplane down near the Turkish-Syrian border in 2015.

But Putin and Erdogan say they have patched things up, and the upcoming meeting will be their third in as many months. Meeting in Ankara in September, they said they wanted to see progress on the TurkStream gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, which is being built in Turkey with Russian collaboration.

With reporting by AP, Interfax, Bloomberg, Reuters, dpa, and TASS