March 27, 2015 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese foreign minister Ali Karti vehemently denied that his country was ever an ally of Iran and described reports saying otherwise as baseless and stressed that relations between Khartoum and Tehran did not exceed the traditional diplomatic framework.
- FILE PHOTO – Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) hugs Sudan’s President Omer Hassan al-Bashir at Khartoum airport (Reuters)
Speaking to reporters on Sunday following the return of president Omer Hassan al-Bashir from Sharm el-Sheikh where he participated in the Arab summit, Karti said that what links Sudan to Arab countries is neighborhood and Arabism and that Khartoum is on board in its alliance with the Arabs away from Tehran.
This week Sudan confirmed statements by Saudi Arabia that it is part of the military coalition targeting Shiite Houthi militants allied with Iran, who have taken control of Yemen since September 2014.
The government spokesperson Ahmed Bilal Osman told Bloomberg on Thursday that Sudan put 4 planes at Saudi Arabia’s command and is prepared to deploy 6,000 soldiers to fight Houthi rebels in the event of a ground war.
Karti said that relations with Tehran were nothing more than “normal” explaining that when Iranian expanded their cultural presence in Sudan the government closed these centers last year.
“I have been in the foreign ministry for some time and never heard of an alliance [with Iran],” he said.
Karti said that Iran is an Islamic state and shares many forums with it but this does not mean the existence of a special relationship with it.
The minister also strongly denied the existence of differences within the Sudanese government ranks after the recent decision to stay away from the Iran axis.
He recalled his remarks years ago about disagreements among Sudanese officials on ties with Iran saying “There is currently no disagreement and we are all on the same page”.
Sudanese president came on Sunday to a reception by dozens of his supporters chanting slogans in support of joining the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
“We are with you, Bashir” and “Yes to legitimacy in Yemen” and “Together to defend the security of the Two Holy Mosques”.
Since 2012, Port Sudan has become a regular stop for Iranian warships drawing concern by the US and its allies in the Gulf. Khartoum insisted at the time that its relations with Iran are based on common interests and not intended to threaten the interests of the Arab Gulf states.
Karti has in the past publicly criticized his government’s move to receive Iranian vessels and said that he recommended against the move.
Israel also accuses Sudan of serving as a hub for weapons coming from Iran that are sent to Palestinian militants and is believed to have conducted several air strikes inside the country since 2009.
Last year, Israeli navy commandos seized a ship in the Red Sea off the Sudanese coast that was allegedly hiding Syrian-made M-302 surface-to-surface missiles supplied by Iran.
But recent visits by Bashir to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates appeared to signal a strategic shift by Khartoum from Iran in favor of oil-rich Arab Gulf states with the resources to support Sudan’s beleaguered economy.