KHARTOUM–The visit of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud to Khartoum on Tuesday raised questions about the role that Riyadh can play in normalising relations between Sudan and Israel.

Riyadh, according to insiders, played a key role along with the United Arab Emirates in convincing the administration of outgoing US President of the need to remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

During his one-day visit, Prince Faisal met with the Sudanese Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Omar Qamaruddin, before holding talks with the head of Sudan’s Transitional Council, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and Prime Minister .

Prince Faisal’s visit came after Sudan threatened to backtrack on its move to normalise ties with Israel unless the US Congress voted to remove the country from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and pass “legal peace” legislation that gives Sudan immunity from prosecution over terror acts.

Sudanese sources told The Arab Weekly that Riyadh supports Khartoum’s strategy in dealing with the normalisation file and its insistence on being removed from the state sponsors of terrorism list.

The country, the sources said, hopes to rid itself of sanctions and devote its efforts to a new phase of reconstruction while striving to form an Arab alliance to face regional challenges.

If Sudan fails to finalise the deal with the current administration in Washington, it plans to draw up a roadmap for the new administration to be inaugurated in January, as long as the latter adopts a similar approach.

Observers believe that Riyadh is pushing for a collective approach to the normalisation issue as Arab countries prepare for a new phase after Trump departs from the White House.

According to experts, normalisation agreements are not expected to progress smoothly if Sudan or Saudi Arabia fail to unify their views before the departure of the current US administration, which gives Prince Faisal’s visit to Khartoum special significance.

Political analyst Khaled al-Faki confirmed that Saudi Arabia believes a comprehensive peace should be reached to tighten the screws on Iran’s proxies and arms in the region. For this to happen, he said, the normalisation issue should proceed in a way that serves the two countries’ broad common interests.

Pressure campaign 

“Saudi Arabia is more than ever involved in efforts to remove Sudan from the list of terrorism. Riyadh’s approach is a key part of the pressure campaign exerted by many parties on members of Congress to pass the ‘legal peace” legislation’,” Faki told The Arab Weekly, noting that “Prince Faisal’s visit aims to coordinate political positions to prevent the failure of the current momentum.”

Western media previously indicated that Israel had begun pressuring Congress to pass a bill that would grant Khartoum immunity from future lawsuits in the US by victims of terror attacks.

Experts warn that Sudan could fall prey to polarisation by rival forces that are seeking to expand their influence in the region if it is not permanently removed from the list.

Hence, it is in Saudi Arabia’s interest for Sudan to be spared from foreign pressures that were previously able to control many of the perceptions of ousted President Omar al-Bashir.

Sudanese sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Arab Weekly that Prince Faisal’s visit sought to coordinate military and intelligence efforts to secure the coasts of the Red Sea and fill the security vacuum in order to confront terrorist organisations and Iran-backed Houthi militias.

Saudi FM discusses regional security, normalisation in Khartoum
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud (C) exits Sudan’s foreign ministry building after his meeting with Foreign Minister Omar Gamaledinne (R) in Khartoum on December 8, 2020. (AFP)

The visit, according to the sources, also sought to determine ways to prevent threats to maritime navigation and global trade caused by Houthi naval mines.

According to the Saudi-led Arab coalition, hundreds of naval mines have been randomly deployed by Iran-backed Houthis, many of which have been discovered and removed in recent months.

Riyadh believes that Sudan’s stability reduces security risks in the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa, as terrorist organisations have long exploited a vacuum in eastern Sudan to threaten maritime navigation and facilitate the tasks of forces deemed hostile to Arab security.

Sudan’s participation in the region’s new security equation, which Israel could also be a part of, requires helping Khartoum overcome its many crises, according to Riyadh.

In the wake of the overthrow of Bashir’s regime, Saudi Arabia and the UAE announced a $3 billion financial support package for Sudan, and in October of last year, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud received the two heads of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council as well as a number of Sudanese ministers.

Al-Rasheed Muhammad Ibrahim, a political science professor at the Centre for International Relations in Khartoum, said that Prince Faisal’s visit came amid divisions threatening the stability of Sudan’s transitional phase, following the formation of the Council of Partners that prompted confusion.

According to Ibrahim, Riyadh understands the risk of Sudan’s political authority dissolving, which could result in deep security problems that would eventually damage Saudi Arabia’s regional arrangements.

Saudi Arabia hosted the Friends of Sudan Conference last August, and played a role in bridging the differences between the revolutionary front, which includes political and armed movements, and the transitional government.

During the conference, Riyadh conditioned financial aid on the implementation of a peace agreement, which was signed last October.

Ibrahim told The Arab Weekly that Riyadh is also concerned about persistent conflict in the Ethiopian Tigray region and the possible spread of violence to neighbouring countries, which threatens its interests in Sudan and the region.

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