Sudanese FM downplays Israel ties, says no plans for Israeli embassy in Khartoum

Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi notes normalization was aimed at shedding terror designation in order to join World Trade Organization

Sudan's Foreign Minister Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, a press conference in Moscow, Russia, July 12, 2021. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)
Sudan's Foreign Minister Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, a press conference in Moscow, Russia, July 12, 2021. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)

Sudan’s foreign minister has downplayed the country’s emerging ties with Israel, saying that there are currently no plans to establish an Israeli embassy in Khartoum.

In an interview published with The National Sunday, 11 months after the announcement of normalization between the countries, Mariam al-Sadiq al-Mahdi said that there is “not any sign of normalization with Israel.”

Nonetheless, in April, the Sudanese cabinet abolished a 63-year-old Israel boycott law. And last week, Sudanese authorities seized assets of companies linked to the Hamas terror group, which rules the Gaza Strip.

“There is no talk at any official level,” al-Mahdi said, adding that “abolishing a law on boycotting Israel does not mean that we consider opening an Israeli embassy in Khartoum.”

Al-Mahdi said that Sudan agreed to normalization so as to improve economic ties with the rest of the globe by becoming a member of the World Trade Organization.

“We have been trying to be a member of the WTO whose terms stipulate that there should be no boycotts between member states,” al-Mahdi said. “We want to be a country open to the world and different partnerships.”

Ties with Israel are “completely linked to lifting Sudan off the US state sponsors of terrorism list,” she maintained.

The normalization agreement still needs to be approved by the Sudanese parliament, but that has not yet been established, as the country is still in a transition of power following a military coup.

“Any decision in this respect should be taken by the interim legislative parliament during the transitional period,” she said of the normalization.

Al-Mahdi also denied reports that Israeli delegations had visited the country to discuss cooperating in various ways. It was not clear what reports Al-Mahdi was referring to. In November 2020, after the two countries announced plans to establish relations, Sudan first denied and then confirmed that an Israeli military delegation had visited the country.

Then in January, the Israeli intelligence minister at the time, Eli Cohen, led a delegation that visited Sudan, holding talks with senior Sudanese officials, including Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling sovereign council, and Defense Minister Yassin Ibrahim.

Then-Israeli intelligence minister Eli Cohen (L) meets with Sudanese Defense Minister Yassin Ibrahim in Khartoum on January 25, 2021. (Courtesy)

Earlier that month, Sudan signed onto the Abraham Accords with the United States, paving the way for the African country to normalize ties with Israel.

The signing came just over two months after then-US president Donald Trump announced that Sudan would start to normalize ties with Israel.

Before Sudan, the Trump administration engineered diplomatic pacts late last year between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and between Israel and Bahrain. Morocco also reestablished diplomatic relations with Israel, after cutting ties in 2000 in solidarity with Palestinians during the Second Intifada.

Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy, after a popular uprising led the military to overthrow longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. The county is now ruled by a joint military and civilian government that seeks better ties with Washington and the West.

In December, Trump’s administration finalized the removal of Sudan from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism. The move was a key incentive for the government in Khartoum to normalize relations with Israel.

Sudan’s economy had suffered from decades of US sanctions and mismanagement under al-Bashir, who ruled the country in the wake of a 1989 Islamist-backed military coup, until 2019.

The designation dated back to the 1990s, when Sudan briefly hosted al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other wanted terrorists. Sudan was also believed to have served as a pipeline for Iran to supply weapons to Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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