Sudan’s leader on Wednesday said he did not discuss normalizing relations with Israel during an unprecedented meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week in Uganda, contradicting the Israeli premier who said the two sides were working toward establishing full ties.
“We did not discuss normalization, but rather [establishing] a relationship of goodwill with the entire world,” Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said during a meeting with leaders of public opinion, reported by pan-Arab TV stations.
“What happened in the meeting was merely a consensus between the two sides to halt all mutually hostile actions and positions. The meeting did not deal with the details regarding the form of relations or what is specifically required to [establish relations]. That is the job of the [transitional] ruling council,” the SUNA state-run news agency quoted him as having said.
Burhan added that Sudan’s cabinet and transitional ruling council will set up a joint committee to weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks of ties with Israel, according to Al Jazeera.
The Sudanese leader also said his government will allow flights to and from the Jewish state — except for those belonging to the Israeli El Al airline — to use Khartoum’s airspace, according to Al Jazeera.
Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel had received permission to fly over Sudan and that only an unspecified technical matter remained before finalizing the agreement.
The spokesman for Sudan’s armed forces, Brig. Amer Mohammed al-Hassan, said Wednesday in a news conference that a meeting between the head of Sudan’s sovereign council and Netanyahu in Uganda on Monday was part of efforts to end Sudan’s longtime status as a state supporter of terror.
The goal of the talks between Netanyahu and Burhan, he said, was to help secure Sudan’s removal from the United States’ list of states that sponsor terror. The designation dates back to the 1990s, when Sudan briefly hosted Osama bin Laden and other wanted terrorists. The US and Israel are staunch allies, known to have grown particularly close in the Trump era.
Sudan was also believed to have served as a pipeline for Iran to supply weapons to Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Israel was thought to have been behind airstrikes in Sudan that destroyed a convoy in 2009 and a weapons factory in 2012.
Monday’s meeting came just a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo invited Burhan to visit the United States in a phone call. The date of the visit has not yet been set.
A senior Sudanese military official said Monday the Sudan-Israel meeting was orchestrated by the United Arab Emirates, another close ally of the US.
Burhan was quoted by al-Hassan as saying during the Wednesday meeting with leaders of public opinion that Sudan is under economic pressure and the country needs “bold decisions that shift Sudan’s domestic and foreign policy.”
Sudan is led by a military-civilian transitional council established following autocratic president Omar al-Bashir’s ouster in a popular uprising that ended his 30-year rule last April. Its interim civilian leaders had said the meeting with Netanyahu caught them by surprise.
Al-Hassan said that in Burhan’s meeting with Netanyahu, the two leaders did not discuss US President Donald’s Trump Middle East peace plan.
The government has faced criticism from civil society leaders for the sudden warming in relations with Israel. Sudan, a Muslim-majority African country, has long said it supports the Palestinian people in their calls for an independent state.
Burhan, Sudan’s interim leader, said in a separate statement Tuesday that Sudan backs the Palestinian people’s aspirations to have an independent state.
Sudan is a member of the Arab League and joined other members at a meeting in Cairo on Saturday in rejecting the Trump’s plan deemed to heavily favor Israel.
Burhan also was quoted as saying that there had been “preparatory talks” about the meeting as early as three months ago, and that the country’s top civilian leader, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, was informed two days prior that the meeting would be taking place.
In a tweet Wednesday, Hamdok called on the country’s leaders to respect the official channels of foreign policy, saying that his Cabinet should be responsible for decisions related to international affairs. He said his government should ensure transparency, particularly during the transition period.
Hamdok’s remarks were the latest in a flurry of comments from government officials, Sudanese political parties and public figures who said they were caught off guard by the meeting, which they said was kept secret until Netanyahu announced it during the visit to Uganda.