In Snub to U.S., Russia and Egypt Move Toward Deal on Air Bases

Egypt, in what appeared to be a snub to the Trump administration, has reached a preliminary agreement to allow Russian military jets to use its airspace and bases, both sides said Thursday.

If finalized, the agreement would give Russia its deepest presence in Egypt since 1973, when Cairo expelled the military of the Soviet Union and instead became Washington’s closest Arab ally.

The United States has provided Egypt more than $70 billion in aid in the four decades since, at a rate of more than $1.3 billion a year in recent years. The cost is often justified in part by the argument that it secures the use of Egypt’s airspace and bases for the American military.

Egyptian and American analysts called the preliminary deal the latest sign of the waning influence of the United States as President Trump has diminished its military and diplomatic footprint in the region and the world.

“Power abhors a vacuum and when the United States pulls back we can’t be under the impression that the world is going to stand by and wait for us,” said Matthew Spence, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy under the Obama administration, which faced similar criticism for its policy toward the region. “The danger, and the reality, is that other countries will take advantage of the opportunity presented when America chooses to pull back.”

In practical terms, the presence of Russian jets in Egypt would raise concerns about the operational security of American military personnel and require coordinating with American military planes in the same airspace.

“It’s a major problem for the United States-Egypt defense relationship,” said Andrew Miller, a former senior State Department official who is now at the Project on Middle East Democracy.

It was unclear to what extent Washington was informed about the agreement. The Trump administration has not yet replaced the ambassador to Cairo, whose three-year term ended in July.

Edgar Vasquez, a State Department spokesman, said only, “We are aware of these reports and are monitoring the situation.”

News of the preliminary agreement came as the United States diplomatic corps has been severely reduced and American foreign policy is facing challenges from all corners.

North Korea had tested its longest-range missile yet the day before, in defiance of bellicose warnings from Mr. Trump and at a time when the positions of assistant secretary of state for East Asia and American ambassador to South Korea both remain empty.

The prime minister and Parliament of Britain, Washington’s closest ally, have publicly rebuked Mr. Trump for promoting online videos from a British far-right group demonizing Muslims.

In the Middle East, the administration has no assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs or ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt or Qatar. And on Thursday, a White House plan surfaced to oust Secretary