President Hosni Mubarak and a senior Egyptian diplomat denied a report Friday that Egypt had purchased the basic elements of a poison gas production plant in a major move to increase its chemical weapons capacity.
Citing unnamed Swiss and American officials, The New York Times said Egypt bought technology capable of producing poison gas from Krebs A.G., a company headquartered in Zurich.Mubarak, who was in Brussels, Belgium, Friday denied the report.
"We are against chemical weapons," he said. "Of course we do not build such a factory. We do not like the idea at all. We want to make peace, not war."
Ahmed Sidki, Egypt's ambassador to France, also dismissed the report as untrue.
"These bits of information are totally untrue and without any foundation," Sidki was quoted as saying by the semi-official Middle East News Agency in Cairo. "We regret these imaginative and baseless allegations published by the newspaper."
Sidki said his country's policy on the issue was to oppose the "manufacturing, hoarding or spreading (of) chemical weapons," pointing out that Egypt played "an instrumental role" in the formulation of a final declaration denouncing chemical weapons at the Jan. 5-11 Paris conference on chemical warfare.
According to the Times, a Swiss official said the major elements of a factory most likely will be installed at Abu Zaabal, mostly desert land north of Cairo, and probably will be used for the production of poison gas.
The purchase poses a challenge to the Bush administraton's opposition to the use of chemical weapons, the Times said.
The White House is opposed to the use of chemical weapons in warfare by any nation, and charges that Iran and Iraq used poison gas during their 8-year war that ended last year is partly responsible for chilly relations between the two countries and the United States.
On March 28, 1988, Iraq reportedly killed some 5,000 people in chemical attack against Halabja in northern Iraq captured by Iranian and Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas one day earlier.
The White House, which views Egypt as a key player in any possible Middle East peace negotiations, has not yet decided how it will respond to the purchase, the Times said, quoting an unidentified senior administration official.