Economic Woes Compel a Shift in Khartoum’s “Strategic Alliance with Iran”

By Eric Reeves

March 30, 2015 (SSNA) — Sudan Tribune reports today a remarkable declaration by the Khartoum regime’s foreign minister, Ali Karti: “We were never allies with Iran: Sudan Foreign Minister”

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.

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 neighbourhood and Arabism and that Khartoum is on board in its alliance with the Arabs away from Tehran…. 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.

But Sudan Tribune concludes with what is surely the real explanation for the radical shift from Khartoum’s well-documented “strategic alliance” with Iran:

[R]ecent visits by Bashir to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates appeared to signal a strategic shift by Khartoum from Iran in favour of oil-rich Arab Gulf states with the resources to support Sudan’s beleaguered economy.

That this “shift” has entailed a profound disavowal of previous assertions about Iran as a “strategic ally” is clear from any examination of the leaked minutes of a meeting of the most senior military and security officials, as well as two senior political officials, on 31 August 2014 (notably, Karti was not included in the meeting). The minutes for this meeting have been fully authenticated by a very wide range of sources (see; they reveal a relationship between Khartoum and Tehran of which Karti is either ignorant or about which he is lying. The latter is the more likely.

The minutes also reveal a painful ignorance of the state of the Sudanese economy on the part of nearly all in attendance—but a very clear understanding that there is money to be had from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. The crushing effects of an almost total lack of foreign exchange currency (Forex) has made imports impossible in a great many cases, including yet again imports of wheat to be ground into flour for bakeries to make into bread. There been numerous reports of bread lines and bread shortages going back almost two years.

As the excerpts below reveal, the economic pain caused by a lack of Forex, high inflation, high unemployment, low revenue generation, and overwhelming external debt (some US$48 billion) has forced Khartoum into a dramatic about-face in its relations with Iran on the one hand and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States on the other. This certainly extends to reversing what had previously been Khartoum’s support for the Houthi insurgents in Yemen: Sudan is one of the Arab countries providing military assistance to Saudi Arabia in its campaign against the Houthis as they march on to Aden.

Examples of statements about Khartoum’s relationship with Iran, and with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf State, from the 31 August 2014 meeting. These are brief excerpts; substantially fuller excerpts providing greater context for these statements may be found at |

• Major General Bakri Hassan Salih, First Vice President (arguably the most powerful figure in the regime after al-Bashir):

A primary recommendation: Maintain and protect the relationship with Iran. Managing this relationship through the military and security agencies.

• General Abdalla al-Jaili, Popular Defense Forces General Coordinator:

We have been targeted for the last twenty-five years because of our relationship with Iran. Both revolutions are committed to Islam. There is no country, other than Iran, who has the courage to say no to the whole West. Iran is an essential partner to the National Salvation Revolution. It was Iran who provided us with free and unlimited support, whereas Saudi Arabia was supporting Garang and the National Democratic Alliance. We shall be testing the credibility of these Gulf States, despite my belief that they are pro-America.

• General Siddiq Amer, Director General of Intelligence and Security:

I think we should improve the relation with the Saudis and benefit from them, but it must be clear that they are not trustworthy. At the same time we maintain our strategic relationship with Iran.

• General Yehya Mohammed Kheir, Minister of State for Defense:

Our relationship with Iran is strategic. We will inform [Iran] of our intention to close down their cultural centers for security reasons; because there is a threat to these centers from some Sunni radical groups who may target them and cause conflict. But again we must take a similar step towards the Wahabi group, to avoid any misinterpretation by the Iranians of these measures as targeting only the Shiite group.

• Major General Mohammed Atta, Director General of National Intelligence and
Security Services:

As soon as the incident [attack on a Shi’ite proselytizer in Darfur] happened, I received a call from the Iranian Security Advisor and the Chief of Republican Guards. We agreed to separate between the two issues: The strategic military and security relationship on one side, and the cultural relationship on the other. After that they reported the agreement to their leadership.

I say that our relationship with Iran is strategic and should be above all other interests. Anyone who wants to sabotage it doesn’t understand the art of keeping balances and lacks the necessary information.

• General Abd al-Rahim Mohammed Hussein, Minister of Defense:

I shall start with our relationship with Iran and say it is a strategic and everlasting relationship. We cannot compromise or lose it. All the advancement in our military industry is from Iran. They opened the doors of their stores of weapons for us, at a time the Arabs stood against us. The Iranian support came when we were fighting a rebellion that spread in all directions including the National Democratic Alliance. The Iranians provided us with experts and they trained our Military Intelligence and security cadres. They also trained us in weapons production and transferred to us modern technology in the military production industry.

• Major General Hashim Abdalla Mohammed, Chief of Joint General Staff:

We rule the people by power, not all the people support us and it is possible that some radicals can create problems like what happened in Western Sudan, when they killed a Shi’ite over religious differences. So let us separate between the two issues… the strategic relation [with Iran] and the Shi’ia Cultural Centers.

We have a problem with Saudi Arabia because they found out about the weapons we sent by way of the Red Sea to Abd al-Malik Al-Huthi’s Shiia group in Yemen [the Houthis are supported by Iran—and formerly by Khartoum].

• General Imad al-Din Adawy, Chief of Joint Operations:

Libya border is totally secured, especially after the victory of our allies (Libya Dawn Forces [Libya Dawn is a radical Islamist organization in Libya]) in Tripoli. We managed to deliver to them the weapons and military equipment donated by Qatar and Turkey and we formed a joint operations room with them under one of the colonels in order to coordinate and administer the military operations.

• General Abd al-Qadir Mohammed Zeen – National Service Coordinator:

The balance in our relationship with Iran on one side and the Gulf States on the other side is important, but my question is: Will Saudi Arabia change its position after it has classified the Muslim Brothers as terrorists? On the other hand, our relationship with Iran is linked to our relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood International Organization. Accordingly, we must consult with Iran and the rest of our Islamist group, before taking any step in this regard, specially that the relationship with the Saudi Arabia Kingdom is not guaranteed, despite their knowledge that we are in a position to threaten their rule.

• General Salah al-Tayeb, DDR Commissioner:

We should set our military and security relationships with Iran apart.

• Dr. Mustafa Osman Ismail, Political Secretary of the regime’s National Congress Party (former foreign Minister in the regime):

In my personal view our relationship with Iran is strategic in the areas of defense and security… I suggest that we maintain good relations with the Gulf States in principle, yet work strategically with Iran, in total secrecy and on a limited scale, through Military Intelligence and security. Thus, diplomatic relationships remain the same.

We have security and political agreements with Iran and they might refuse the suggestion of fresh relationships with the Gulf States, especially that Saudi has concerns regarding the Iranian military presence in Sudan.

• Ibrahim Ghandour, Deputy Chairman of the regime’s National Congress Party:

The relationship with Iran is one of the best relationships in the history of the Sudan. Accordingly, the management of this relationship requires wisdom and knowledge of all its details. The assistance we received from Iran is immeasurable. The commonalities between us are many. People should not limit their concern to the aspect of converting to Shi’ism only. There are many infiltrators who are working to see us lose our relationship with Iran. We must note that Iran is a friend to all the Islamic movements worldwide. We need to conduct internal consultations first and then we put our Iranian partners in the picture about all the details.

Eric Reeves is the Author of Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007-2012

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