27 June 2014

Sudan: Egyptian President Concludes Lightning Visit to Sudan

Khartoum — Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has departed Khartoum on Friday following a short visit to meet with his Sudanese counterpart Omer Hassan Al-Bashir.

Al-Sisi flew to Khartoum from Equatorial Guinea's capital Malabo where attended the 23rd Ordinary African Union (AU) summit, Egypt's first after the suspension of its membership in the AU was lifted last week.

Sudan's official News Agency (SUNA) reported that the Egyptian president was "on a short visit to hold talks with president Al-Bashir".

Sudanese diplomatic sources said the meeting discussed bilateral relations particularly the issue of the Ethiopian renaissance dam which led to deterioration in relations between Cairo and Khartoum.

The Sudanese president, in a joint press conference at Khartoum airport following the talks, expressed appreciation for al-Sisi's visit, saying the latter insisted on visiting Khartoum despite his busy schedule.

He pointed that they discussed many bilateral and regional issues, saying the two peoples would benefit from these discussions.

"This visit will push Cairo-Khartoum relations forward along the right direction," Bashir said.

The Sudanese president added that ties between the two countries are deeply rooted not only by virtue of geographical proximity but also for the historical, cultural, religious and ethnic ties.

Bashir also pointed to convergence of views on containing conflicts in the region and promoting regional relationships to the benefit of the peoples of the region.

Al-Sisi for his part underscored there are many issues that the two sides can work on, pointing to the need for coordinating positions on regional issues.

"We agreed to coordinate our positions on regional issues and we are looking forward to president Bashir's visit to Egypt", he added.

The Sudanese ambassador to Egypt, Abdul-Mahmoud Abdul-Halim was quoted by SUNA as saying that the neighboring countries are on the verge of new phase in their relations, noting the existence of political will by the two sides to bolster them.

He further said that al-Sisi emphasized the importance of reactivating bilateral relations and mechanisms of joint cooperation.

Relations between Cairo and Khartoum have taken a downward spiral, particularly after Sudan announced its strong support of the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Al-Sisi met on Thursday with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on the sidelines of the AU summit in Malabo.

The two countries' foreign ministers issued a joint statement afterwards saying that they will form a joint committee in the upcoming three months to enhance bilateral relations.

They also agreed to resume work of the tripartite technical committee on the dam project.

In June 2012, a panel of international experts tasked with studying the impacts of the Ethiopian dam on lower riparian countries, including Sudan and Egypt, found that the dam project will not cause significant harm to either country.

Cairo remains unconvinced and has sought further studies and consultation with Khartoum and Addis Ababa.

Egypt fears that the $4.6 billion hydropower plant will diminish its share of the river's water flows, arguing its historic water rights must be maintained in line with the 1929 and 1959 colonial agreements.

Sudanese officials accuse Egyptian media of seeking to provoke their government against Khartoum in light of this position.

Many Egyptian politicians and observers have expressed fury over Sudan's stance with some going as far as calling Khartoum an "ingrate" and "treacherous".

Some commentators have speculated that Khartoum wants to use the dam issue as a bargaining chip to claim back Halayeb which has been under Egyptian control since the 1990s.

The genesis of the disputes over Halayeb dates back to as early as 1958 after Sudan gained independence from being ruled jointly by Britain and Egypt. The wrangle is a result of a discrepancy in the demarcation of political boundaries set by the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium and the ones set earlier by the British in 1902.

Egypt brushed aside Sudan's repeated calls for referring the dispute to international arbitration.

Khartoum is also accused by Egyptian media of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood movement which has been pushed off Egypt's political scene after the toppling of president Mohamed Morsi last year by then army chief al-Sisi in response to mass anti-Morsi demonstrations in the country.

The Islamist government in Sudan has appeared uncomfortable with the ouster of Morsi given the common ideology they shared with him and the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) which brought him to power.

Unlike most Arab leaders, the Sudanese president did not congratulate interim Egyptian president Adli Mansour on his new role.

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