Sudanese leader says he ‘felt comfortable’ with Netanyahu during meeting

Sudanese leader says he ‘felt comfortable’ with Netanyahu during meeting

Abdel Fattah al-Burhan reveals he ‘prayed to God’ before unprecedented talks in Uganda with Israeli premier

In this May 30, 2019 file photo, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan's ruling military council, attends an emergency summit of Gulf Arab leaders in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)
In this May 30, 2019 file photo, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan's ruling military council, attends an emergency summit of Gulf Arab leaders in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

Sudan’s leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan gave further details on Saturday of his recent meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda earlier this week, telling a local newspaper that he “felt comfortable” with the Israeli premier and that the two shared a meal during their unprecedented sit-down.

Burhan said he prayed before the meeting and asked God to send him a sign whether to meet with Netanyahu or not, Channel 12 reported, citing an unnamed Sudanese newspaper.

“A few days before I met with Netanyahu, I prayed to God. I asked him whether this was a good thing for Sudan. If so, I said I’d go. If not, ‘send me a sign.’ God gave me the feeling that I should go and meet with him,” Burhan was quoted as saying.

Netanyahu and Burhan met in Entebbe on Monday at the residence of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, a fact the two only disclosed after the meeting took place.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces, right, receives Sudanese Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan at the Presidential Airport in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 26, 2019. (Mohamed Al Hammadi/Ministry of Presidential Affairs via AP, File)

The meeting marked a sharp turnaround for the two countries, once sworn enemies and still technically at war. Sudan — a Muslim-Arab country in northeastern Africa — has recently moved away from Iran’s influence over the latter’s involvement in Yemen, and ousted longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir a year ago.

A senior Sudanese military official said after the meeting that it had been aimed at helping remove the US designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terror.

Sudan has been seeking to lift sanctions linked to its listing by the US as a state sponsor of terror — a key step toward ending its isolation and rebuilding its economy after the popular uprising that toppled Bashir last year.

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.

On Monday a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel, speaking on condition of anonymity, that Netanyahu and Burhan had agreed to gradually normalize relations. Burhan contradicted that statement a day later, telling the media that normalization was not in the offing.

“We did not discuss normalization, but rather [establishing] a relationship of goodwill with the entire world,” 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 saying.

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.

Illustrative. An El Al airline plane at Ben Gurion International Airport on August 17, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Sudanese leader also said his government will allow flights to and from the Jewish state to use Khartoum’s airspace — except for those belonging to the Israeli airline El Al, 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.

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.

Sudan is led by a military-civilian transitional council established following autocratic president 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.

The government has faced criticism from civil society leaders for the sudden warming in relations with Israel. Sudan has long said it supports the Palestinian people in their calls for an independent state.

Burhan 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 last Saturday in rejecting the Trump’s plan deemed to heavily favor Israel.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (R) and Uganda’s First Lady Janet Museveni (2nd-R) pose for photo with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu at the State House in Entebbe, Uganda, February 3, 2020. (Sumy Sadurni/AFP)

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 at the end of his visit to Uganda.

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