KHARTOUM (Reuters) - The head of Sudan’s ruling council on Tuesday cast doubt on any rapid normalization of ties with Israel a day after meeting the Israeli prime minister in Uganda, saying that his country’s position on the Palestinian issue remains unchanged.
Abdel Fattah al-Burhan also said in a statement the relationship between Sudan and Israel was “the responsibility of the concerned institutions”, in an apparent reference to Sudan’s civilian cabinet.
The cabinet said on Monday it had not been informed in advance about the Uganda meeting, news of which sparked protests in Khartoum.
Burhan is the most senior figure in the first phase of a power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilian parties in Sudan that began last August, following the overthrow of long-time Islamist ruler Omar al-Bashir.
A joint meeting between the sovereign council and cabinet on Tuesday also agreed that any step related to relations with Israel should be discussed and approved by cabinet, sources who attended the meeting told Reuters.
Burhan said later that Khartoum’s position towards the Palestinian issue and the right of Palestinians to set up their independent state “remained and will remain firm”.
Bilateral relations between Sudan and Israel have never been normalized, and doing so would likely raise hackles in Sudan and the wider Arab world, especially at a time when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is promoting a U.S. peace plan rejected by Palestinians.
But Sudan is also anxious to rebuild links with the outside world after decades of isolation under Islamist Bashir, and to be removed from a U.S. list of countries considered state sponsors of terrorism.
Sudan’s cabinet on Tuesday discussed Burhan and Netanyahu’s meeting, which Israeli officials said lasted two hours in the city of Entebbe in central Uganda.
It also held consultations with leaders of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FCC), an alliance that fronted protests that toppled Omar al-Bashir last year, sources said.
FCC leaders also held discussions with the sovereign council, the sources added. The alliance in a statement accused Burhan of making “a major breach” of the country’s constitutional declaration.
Scores of protesters gathered outside the government headquarters on Tuesday, condemning Burhan’s meeting with Netanyahu, Reuters witnesses said.
“The betrayal that was represented in the meeting with the head of the Zionist entity, is a dagger in the heart of the Sudanese people,” said Tarek Babakr, one of the protesters.
The U.S. terrorism listing has impeded badly needed international financial assistance and commercial activity in Sudan.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thanked Burhan by phone “for his leadership in normalizing ties with Israel,” his spokesperson said on Monday, and Washington has invited Burhan to visit later this year.
Yoav Gallant, an Israeli security cabinet member from Netanyahu’s Likud party, said in a Twitter post after the PM’s meeting with Burhan: “Country after country... want to draw close to Israel and improve ties. Israeli power is the key to success - not groveling.”
Additional reporting Eltayeb Siddiq in Khartoum, Hesham Abdul Khalek in Cairo, Nafisa Eltahir in Dubai and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Aidan Lewis, John Stonestreet and Richard Pullin