Iran, Sudan close ranks in face of pressure

Leaders of two nations faced with strong international pressure — Iran for its nuclear programme and Sudan because of the conflict in Darfur — closed ranks on Wednesday as Sudan’s Omar Bashir and visiting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran gushed in support of one another.“Enemies try by force to prevent Sudan from emerging powerful in the region, as they do in Iran’s case,” Ahmadinejad declared after arriving in Khartoum.The Persian nation’s president said Iran considers “progress, dignity and power of Sudan” as important as its own, and “extends ideological support” to the country, Iran’s state IRNA news agency reported.

“There is no limit to the expansion of relations with Sudan,” said Ahmadinejad, announcing a “new chapter” in oil, energy, industry and agriculture sectors between the two countries.

Meanwhile, Bashir said Iran was within its “absolute right” to pursue a nuclear programme — which is condemned by the UN Security Council and the United States, worried that Tehran is using it to mask efforts to create nuclear weapons.

“Attempts by some countries that possess lethal nuclear weapons to frustrate Iran’s right in using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes reflect double standards that dominate the international scene,” Bashir said.

Those same countries “turn a blind eye on Israel’s nuclear arsenal and are incapable of forcing it to relinquishing its arms so that the Middle East could be a nuclear-free zone”, Bashir added. Israel, which is believed to possess nuclear weapons of its own but has never publicly acknowledged it, considers a nuclear armed Iran as the greatest threat to its existence.

Ahmadinejad’s visit to Sudan comes a day after the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor accused a junior member of Bashir’s Cabinet of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

During his two-day visit, Ahmadinejad will deliver a lecture at a private institution in Khartoum and witness the signing of several bilateral agreements, according to Sudan’s information ministry.

Sudanese state SUNA news agency said the visit would promote “cooperation in defence relations, the exchange of expertise and scientific and technological capabilities”. Iranian ambassador in Khartoum, Ridha Amiri, said the trade volume between the two countries is expected to jump from $43 million to some $70 million.

The permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany are currently discussing strengthening the limited sanctions imposed on Iran in December for its refusal to stop enriching uranium. Enriched uranium is used to fuel nuclear reactors but uranium enriched to a higher degree is used to make atomic bombs.

The United States accuses Iran of secretly trying to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, saying its enrichment is solely for self-sufficiency in fuel for nuclear power plants.

Also, the United Nations is pushing the Khartoum government to accept 22,000 UN and African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, where 2.5 million people have become refugees and more than 200,000 have died in four years of fighting.

Bashir has rejected any significant UN deployment as a violation of sovereignty.

On Tuesday, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor accused Sudan’s minister of state for humanitarian affairs, Ahmed Mohammad Harun, of paying and recruiting groups responsible for murder, rape and torture in Darfur.

Harun, who is known to be a member of Bashir’s inner circle, is alleged to have committed the crimes while a junior interior minister. The prosecutor also accused a faction leader, Ali Mohammad Ali Abd-Rahman, of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Sudan rejected the allegations and said it would not hand the suspects over for trial.

During Ahmadinejad’s visit, Sudanese defence minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Hussein said that “both Sudan and Iran are being subjected to similar international challenges, particularly from the Untied States in its attempt to rearrange the Middle East”. For his part, Ahmadinejad said “foreign presence” — shorthand for US troops — is the root cause of problems in Iraq. “Today, continued occupation has added to insecurity and problems in Iraq,” he said, and urged the “occupiers of the country” to revise their policies.

Ahmadinejad said that preserving the “legal government, territorial integrity and national unity in Iraq is the key to resolving the country’s problems.” The US has accused Iran of helping support Shiite armed groups in Iraq, but Ahmadinejad hurled accusations back on Wednesday, saying the “occupiers” want to prevent Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and other ethnic groups in Iraq from living peacefully together.

“Today, enemies want to sow seeds of discord in Iraq,” he said. “Repeated mistakes by US occupiers in Iraq have cost the lives of thousands.”

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