Khartoum — The Sudanese foreign minister Ali Karti today defended his country's decision to receive two Iranian warships calling it normal in the context of relations between nations.
Karti who attended the national assembly's deliberations on his report submitted last month again stressed that docking of the ships in Port Sudan in late October was pre-planned and is not linked to the suspected Israeli airstrike on a weapons factory in Khartoum days prior to that.
The top diplomat later disclosed to reporters that U.S. navy warships stopped in Port Sudan for few hours in November but offered no further details.
A U.S. pentagon official in Washington reached by Sudan Tribune said he has no knowledge of the stop and another U.S. navy official said that he will not be able to check on it until Wednesday.
The U.S. has placed Sudan on the list of states that sponsor terrorism since 1993 on allegations of harboring regional and international militants including for some time Al-Qaeda's late leader Osama Bin Laden who was killed in Pakistan by US Navy SEALS last year.
Countries under this designation cannot receive U.S. aid or buy U.S. weapons and a raft of restrictions on financial and other dealings. The list currently also includes Cuba, Iran, and Syria.
Sudan is also subject to comprehensive economic sanctions since 1997 over terrorism charges as well as human right abuses. Further sanctions, particularly on weapons, have been imposed since the 2003 outbreak of violence in the western Darfur region.
But following September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, the two countries have reportedly forged strong counterterrorism cooperation that earned rare praise by U.S. administration in recent years.
According to the latest annual US terrorism report, the Sudanese government continued to work last year on limiting activities of Al-Qaeda inspired groups operating in Sudan, while also disrupting foreign fighters' use of Sudan as a "logistics base and transit point for violent extremists going to Iraq and Afghanistan".
Except for Hamas, the government "does not openly support the presence of terrorist elements within its borders," the report said. It added that Sudan maintains a relationship with Iran, another terrorism sponsor.
The U.S. has voiced its concern in October over Iranian ships visit to Sudan and stressed that they are "watching that closely".
A second visit was scheduled by Iranian navy ships for late November but was postponed for unknown reasons. The Sudanese army said the postponement was the decision of the Iranian side.
Several Sudanese lawmakers criticized their government's ties with Iran and authorizing the visit of its warships. They questioned the benefit Sudan gets from its relationship with a country entangled in a major dispute with the international community over its nuclear program.
The Sudanese diplomat expressed similar sentiments in a TV interview last month revealing that he formally advised the government against granting permission to Iranian warships to stop in Port Sudan. He said the government took by his advice in February and denied them access but the second time he was not consulted.
Karti also suggested that it is in Sudan's best interest to downgrade ties with Iran in favor of stronger relations with oil-rich Arab Gulf states. The latter he said are unhappy over the perceived Khartoum-Tehran close ties.