Sudan’s acting foreign minister on Tuesday night denied knowledge of peace talks with Israel, and said a government spokesman who announced an impending normalization agreement was not authorized to comment on the issue.
In a press statement, Omar Qamar al-Din Ismail, who entered the transitional office in July, said the government was “surprised” by the claim by his spokesman that Khartoum and Jerusalem were edging toward reconciliation.
“The Foreign Ministry was surprised to see the statements of Ambassador Haider Badawi Sadiq, the ministry’s spokesman, about Sudan’s attempt to establish relations with Israel. These statements have created an ambiguous situation that needs clarification,” the statement said.
“The matter of relations with Israel has not been discussed in the Foreign Ministry at all. No one tasked Haidar Badawi Sadiq with making statements on this matter,” Ismail added.
Sadiq told Sky News Arabia earlier on Tuesday that Sudan “aspires towards a peace agreement with Israel… a relationship of equals built upon Khartoum’s interests,” in a statement hailed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“There’s no reason for the enmity to continue,” Sadiq said. “We do not deny the communication between the two countries.”
“Both Sudan and Israel will benefit from such an agreement if it is signed, at the end of this year or the beginning of next year,” he continued, referring to Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen’s prediction in interviews at the weekend of a Sudan-Israel agreement by the end of 2020. Sadiq also praised the agreement to normalize ties between the United Arab Emirates and Israel as “courageous.”
Sadiq later clarified that he confirmed talks with Israel because no senior government officials had bothered to deny Cohen’s prediction.
“The fact that no Sudanese official came out to deny what the Israeli intelligence chief said made me conclude that the normalization line is the one that the state is taking,” he tweeted. “On this I built my statements, which the Ministry denied in its brief statement.”
His original comments came hours after Sadiq penned a blog on a Sudanese news site in which he urged the government and transitional leadership to open up about its talks with Israel.
“Respect your people and tell them what’s going on in secret about relations with Israel,” he wrote, noting that he had decided to speak as a private citizen and shed flowery diplomatic language in the name of free speech.
A Sudanese government official told The Associated Press that deliberations between Sudanese and Israeli officials have been going on for months, with help from Egypt, the UAE and the US.
“It’s a matter of time. We are finalizing everything. The Emirati move encouraged us and helped calm some voices within the government who were afraid of backlash from the Sudanese public,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
The reports came days after Israel and the UAE announced they would establish ties.
While Sudan does not have the resources and influence of the UAE, it has a far more hostile history toward Israel.
Sudan hosted the landmark Arab conference after the 1967 Six Day War where eight Arab countries approved the “three no’s”: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations.
In 1993, the US designated Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism, in part for its support of a number of anti-Israel terror groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah.
But in recent years those hostilities have softened, and both countries have expressed readiness to normalize relations.
In February, Netanyahu met Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of Sudan’s transitional government, during a trip to Uganda where they pledged to pursue normalization. The meeting was held secretly and only announced after the fact.
After that meeting, Netanyahu said normalization was discussed; Burhan denied it, while Sudan’s civilian leadership denied any knowledge of talks with Israel.
In a statement Tuesday, Netanyahu said Israel, Sudan and the entire region will benefit from a deal. “We will do all that’s needed to turn this vision into a reality,” he said.
Sudan, a Muslim-majority African country, is on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising led the military to overthrow former autocratic president Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. A military-civilian government now rules the country, with elections possible in late 2022.
A longtime member of the Arab League, Sudan has joined other member states in rejecting the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that Palestinians have said is heavily biased toward Israel. But to rebuild Sudan’s economy, the new administration in Khartoum also seeks an end to American sanctions as a US-listed state sponsor of terror.
Last week, the United Arab Emirates said it would establish full diplomatic ties with Israel, which would make it just the third Arab nation to do so, after Egypt and Jordan.
The dramatic announcement set off a flurry of excitement in Israel, bringing years of covert business and security ties into the open and adding an appealing tourist destination for travel-happy Israelis.
After last week’s announcement with the UAE, Netanyahu predicted that other Arab countries would soon follow suit.
The US-brokered deal — which will also see Israel suspend its plans to annex a large part of the West Bank — has been billed as a diplomatic breakthrough that formalizes the burgeoning alliance against Iran.
Thursday’s surprise statement set off speculation over which Arab nation will be next, with attention focused on Bahrain, Oman and Sudan. On Monday, Oman and Israel said their foreign ministers had spoken and, according to Israel, agreed to “maintain direct and continual contact.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday night said Minister Gabi Ashkenazi spoke to five of his counterparts in the Arab world, but did not name the other three, apart from UAE and Oman.
For Israel, Saudi Arabia — which still has not commented publicly on the UAE’s decision — would be the ultimate prize. Senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner has predicted the kingdom will eventually agree to relations with Israel.