President Omar Al-Bashir says decision to close Iranian cultural centers in Sudan was "strategic step"
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir gestures as he gives an address at the opening of the eighth session of Parliament in Khartoum on October 28, 2013.(Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)
Medina,andnbsp;Asharq Al-Awsat—In exclusive comments toandnbsp;Asharq Al-Awsat, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir acknowledged that Khartoum’s relations with Riyadh have been harmed by the country’s ties with Tehran, but stressed that Sudanese-Iranian ties have been exaggerated.
“We admit that our ties with Saudi Arabia were frosty but this never reached the level of being strained. Relations would not have reached this stage were it not for false information being leaked about the situation in Sudan and the country’s foreign ties, particularly with Iran. This information was exaggerated,” Bashir said.
“All of the information that reached the Saudi leadership within this context was false, fabricated and exaggerated. This was clearly shown following the issuance of the recent decision stipulating the closure of Iranian cultural centers [in Sudan],” Bashir added.
Khartoum took the decision to shut down controversial Iranian cultural centers in Sudan, affiliated to the Iranian embassy, in early September. In a statement issued at the time, Khartoum said that the activities of the cultural center represented an intellectual and social threat to the country. Speaking toandnbsp;Asharq Al-Awsatandnbsp;following the decision, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti said: “We have been closely monitoring the activities of the center in Khartoum to verify that it is committed to cultural activities rather than seeking to make Shi’ite sectarian gains that are alien to Sudanese society.”
While Bashir affirmed that the decision to close the cultural center was a “strategic step” rather than a conciliatory move towards the Sunni Arab Gulf. “There are Shi’ites in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, among others, [but] we cannot allow them to have a presence in Sudan,” the Sudanese president toldandnbsp;Asharq Al-Awsat.
“There are no strategic ties between [Sudan] and Iran. Our ties with Iran are very normal. As I said, some sides with particular agendas aim to pump exaggerated informationandnbsp;.andnbsp;.andnbsp;.The bottom line is that any talk of us having strategic ties with Iran is pure fabrication and cheap propaganda through which some sides seek to achieve their goals at the expense of our ties with our brothers in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia in particular,” he added.
The Sudanese president hailed relations between Khartoum and Riyadh, describing them as historical and well-entrenched. “Ties between the two countries are based on historic links and driven by a common destiny,” he said.
An abridged version of this interview will be published tomorrow.