Officials say Israeli minister visited Sudan to discuss ties

FILE - In this June 29, 2019 file photo, Sudanese Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the military council, speaks during a military-backed rally, in Omdurman district, west of Khartoum, Sudan. An Israeli delegation headed by Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen quietly visited Sudan and met with Burhan, officials from both countries said Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. The visit on Monday was the first visit by an Israeli minister to Sudan less than three weeks after Khartoum inked an agreement to normalize ties with Israel. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
SAMY MAGDY
·3 min read

CAIRO (AP) — An Israeli delegation headed by the country's intelligence minister quietly visited Sudan and met with the African nation's leaders, officials from both countries said Tuesday.

The visit Monday was the first by an Israeli minister to Sudan less than three weeks after Khartoum inked an agreement to normalize ties with Israel.

Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen, head of the Israeli delegation, met with Sudanese Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling sovereign council, Defense Minister Yassin Ibrahim and other military and government officials.

Sudan became the third Arab state to normalize ties with Israel during the Trump administration last year as part of a U.S.-brokered deal known as the “Abraham Accords.”

Sudanese officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the visit with media, said the Israeli delegation discussed “steps” to move forward on the ties between the two nations. They did not elaborate.

Cohen’s office confirmed the visit, saying it was the first official visit by an Israeli minister to Sudan.

Arye Shalicar, an Israeli government official who was among the delegation, said the atmosphere was “very friendly” and the two sides discussed water, aviation, transportation, health and technology cooperation, as well as security and strategic affairs.

“It demonstrates their will to advance peace with us, to normalize relations,” he said.

Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising led the military to overthrow longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. The county is now ruled by a joint military and civilian government that seeks better ties with Washington and the West.

The “Abraham Accords” are named after the biblical patriarch revered by Muslims and Jews. Khartoum signed the deal on Jan. 6 during a visit to the country by then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Ahead of the announcement by former President Donald Trump last October, a senior U.S.-Israeli delegation visited Sudan to put final touches on the normalization deal.

The Trump administration also announced diplomatic pacts last year between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — the first since Jordan recognized Israel in the 1990s and Egypt in the 1970s. Morocco also established diplomatic ties with Israel.

The agreements are all with countries that are geographically distant from Israel and have played a minor role, if any, in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Although Sudan is not a regional powerhouse, establishing ties with Israel is deeply symbolic. Sudan hosted the 1967 Khartoum summit where Arab countries vowed never to make peace with Israel, and more recently had close ties with Israeli enemies like Hamas and Hezbollah.

The Israeli delegation’s visit came as Ambassador Andrew Young, the U.S. Africa Command’s deputy commander for civil-military engagement, arrived in Khartoum on Monday for a several-day visit to discuss U.S.-Sudanese ties, Sudan’s state-run SUNA news agency reported.

Young met separately Tuesday with Burhan and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. The U.S. official said his talks with Burhan were “fruitful” and that the U.S. would work to “build strong ties with Sudan to support the historic change” in the African nation, according a statement by the ruling sovereign council.

Washington late last year removed Sudan from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. De-listing Sudan was an incentive to have Khartoum normalize ties with Israel.

The removal came after Sudan paid $335 million in compensations to U.S. victims of terrorist attacks. Those include the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by the al-Qaida network while its leader, Osama bin Laden, was living in Sudan. The country also was believed to have served as a pipeline for Iran to supply weapons to Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

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Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.