The head of Sudan’s transitional government has said Israel has an important role in removing the country from a US blacklist of state sponsors of terror, according to a report in an Arab newspaper.
Speaking to London-based pan-Arabic publication Asharq al-Awsat, Sudan’s Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan cited that fact as justification for his controversial, unprecedented meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda earlier this month.
Sudan, a predominantly Muslim nation, does not have official relations with Israel, but after their meeting, Netanyahu said the two had agreed to move towards normalizing ties.
Burhan had denied this, but in Friday’s interview appeared to confirm it, saying such a move was “within the framework of Sudan’s efforts for its national and security interests.”
He said a committee would be formed to discuss advancing relations, and claimed there was widespread support for normalization in the country. and that only “limited ideological groups” opposed it.
The surprise meeting stirred controversy in Sudan, with the government saying it wasn’t notified ahead of time and critics lambasting the talks on social media. The military spoke out in support of them.
Burhan’s comments on Israel’s role in fostering better ties with the Americans were in line with statements made by a Sudanese military official.
The spokesman for Sudan’s armed forces, Brig. Amer Mohammed al-Hassan, said last week that the goal of the talks 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 is desperate to lift sanctions linked to its blacklisting by the US — a key step toward ending its isolation and rebuilding its economy after the popular uprising that toppled longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir last year.
The meeting marked a major diplomatic breakthrough for Israel with an Arab and African country, two days after the Arab League rejected a US peace initiative seen as heavily favoring the Jewish state.
Sudan is a longtime member of the Arab League and joined other members in rejecting US President Donald Trump’s plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Under al-Bashir, Sudan was also believed to have served as a pipeline for Iran to supply weapons to Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Israel was believed to have been behind airstrikes in Sudan that destroyed a convoy in 2009 and a weapons factory in 2012.
Sudan hosted the Arab League summit after the 1967 war that became famous for establishing the “three no’s”: no to peace with Israel, no to recognition of Israel, and no to negotiations with Israel.
Sudan has recently moved away from Iran’s influence over the latter’s involvement in Yemen, and ousted al-Bashir a year ago.
An Israeli official told Channel 13 news that Sudan had asked Israel to help it improve ties with the United States and urge the Trump administration to drop the terror designation.
Netanyahu agreed to do so, raising the issue with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he was in Washington last week for the rollout of Trump’s peace plan, the network said.
After meeting Burhan, Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying the premier believes Sudan “is headed in a new, positive direction” and that he expressed this to Pompeo.
Pompeo phoned Burhan on Sunday and invited him to visit the US, Sudan’s ruling sovereign council said.
In Friday’s interview Burhan said he was waiting for a finalized date to travel to the US and meet with US President Donald Trump.
After the meeting, Netanyahu tweeted: “We agreed to begin cooperation that will lead to normalization of relations between the two countries. History!”
A senior Israeli official said the meeting lasted for two hours.
“The agreement was that this meeting serves as the beginning of a process of bilateral cooperation leading to normalization,” the official said. “It’s a good start.”
Netanyahu has made expanding ties in Africa a central plank of his foreign policy.
In 2019, he re-established ties with Chad, and hinted during a visit there that he was working to establish ties with other countries, reportedly including Sudan.
Israel officials have long expressed a wish for improved ties with Khartoum, citing its importance in the region as well as its geographic location.
Israel has been seeking permission for its planes to overfly Sudan, cutting several hours off trips to South America. The senior official said Sudan was expected to give that okay soon, as part of the normalization process.
In September, mere days after the new Sudanese cabinet was sworn in, newly appointed Sudanese Foreign Minister Asma Abdullah indicated that her country would be interested in establishing relations with Israel if and when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was solved.