The head of Sudan’s ruling council Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan’s transitional government, said in an interview published Friday that Israel is playing an important role in removing his country from a U.N. blacklist of state sponsors of terror.
Speaking to London-based pan-Arabic publication Asharq al-Awsat, al-Burhan noted this point as justification for his unprecedented meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Uganda, during the latter’s visit there.
Sudan, a Muslim nation, does not have official relations with Israel, but after the meeting, Netanyahu said the two nations had agreed to move towards normalizing ties.
Burhan is the most senior figure in the first phase of a power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilian parties in Sudan that began last August, following the overthrow of long-time Islamist ruler Omar al-Bashir.
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 Sudanese Cabinet said that it had not been informed in advance about the Uganda meeting, news of which sparked protests in Khartoum.
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.
Sudan is desperate to lift sanctions linked to its blacklisting by the U.S. as this has impeded badly needed international financial assistance and commercial activity in Sudan.
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 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 that Sudan had asked Israel to help it improve ties with the U.S. and urge the Trump administration to drop the terror designation.
Netanyahu agreed to do so, raising the issue with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he was in Washington for the release of Trump’s peace plan.
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 later phoned Burhan and invited him to visit the U.S., Sudan’s ruling sovereign council said.
In Friday’s interview, Burhan said that he was waiting for a finalized date to travel to the U.S. and meet with President Donald Trump.