CAIRO — Egypt’s defense minister, on a visit to Seoul, announced that his country has cut military ties with North Korea, according to a report by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
There was no immediate confirmation from the Egyptian government of the agency’s report, but Cairo has come under mounting pressure in recent weeks to sever ties with North Korea as the United States seek to curb Pyongyang’s efforts to develop long-range nuclear weapons.
Last month Washington cut or delayed nearly $300 million in aid to Egypt over its human rights record and its ties with Pyongyang.
In an Aug. 24 briefing, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the Trump administration has had conversations with Egypt about the need to isolate North Korea.
Countries that do business with Pyongyang, she warned, enabled money to go into North Korea’s illegal nuclear and ballistic weapons programs.
Mohamed Elmenshawy, an Egyptian analyst based in Washington, told the press the Trump administration has been privately urging Cairo to cut military ties with Pyongyang.
“The recent cut in the U.S. military aid to Egypt was a clear message to Cairo: You choose us or North Korea, you cannot have military relations with both of us,” he said. “Cairo got the message and it cut ties with North Korea.”
Yonhap’s report late Monday quoted the South Korean Defense Ministry as saying Egyptian Defense Minister Sidki Sobhi told his South Korean counterpart that Cairo had “already severed all military ties with North Korea.”
“Egypt will actively cooperate with South Korea against North Korea acts that threaten peace,” the agency quoted Sobhi as saying.
Yonhap said Sobhi was responding to a request from South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo for Egypt to join efforts to toughen sanctions on the North over its recent ballistic missile and nuclear tests.
In Cairo, Egypt’s military spokesman Col. Tamer el-Rifai would only say that Sobhi discussed military and security cooperation with South Korean officials. He declined to elaborate.
Several Egyptian news websites posted Sobhi’s comments only to remove them later. The daily El-Masry El-Youm published his comments in the first run of its print edition but removed them in later ones.
Egypt has for decades maintained close ties with North Korea, with the secretive nation selling weapons to Egypt and upgrading its arsenal of medium-range, ground-to-ground missiles.
A 2015 U.N. report said North Korean front companies and shipping agents engaged in weapons smuggling have called on Egypt’s Mediterranean city of Port Said, which also sits on the northern end of the Suez Canal.
In February, U.N. investigators said they acquired evidence of North Korean trade in “hitherto unreported items such as encrypted military communications, man-portable air defense systems, air defense systems and satellite-guided missiles” in the Middle East and Africa, among other locations.
They said Egypt intercepted a vessel in August 2016 commanded by a North Korean captain carrying 30,000 PG-7 rocket-propelled grenades and related subcomponents. They were in wooden crates concealed under about 2,300 tons of limonite.
Naguib Sawiris, an Egyptian business tycoon who owns a telecom and media company, helped set up North Korea’s main cellular telephone network in 2008. The company’s total investment in the communist nation stands at $500 million, according to the website of Egypt’s Foreign Ministry.