Saudi Oil Minister arrives in Sudan to cement improving ties
KHARTOUM - Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi visited Sudan on Wednesday promising increased investment in a major fillip for the impoverished African nation after its tilt from Tehran towards Riyadh.
For years, the Islamist regime in Khartoum maintained close relations with Iran, whose warships made repeated calls in Sudanese ports and allegedly delivered arms for onward delivery to the Hamas rulers of Gaza.
But as sectarian divisions in the region have been sharpened by the conflict in Syria, Khartoum has allied with Riyadh and last year announced it would take part in a Saudi-led military intervention in nearby Yemen against Iran-backed rebels.
"This visit is part of our move to make investments in the region," Naimi told reporters on his arrival.
"In Sudan we will concentrate on investments in the mining sector."
Naimi went straight into talks with Sudanese Mining Minister Ahmed Mohamed al-Karuri before meeting President Omar al-Bashir.
A major focus of the visit was a long-mooted offshore mining project in Red Sea waters along the two countries' maritime boundary, which aims to recover zinc, copper, silver and even gold.
A joint exploration project -- Atlantis II -- has been under way since 2012 and Naimi told a news conference that production "is expected to begin after four years".
Media reports say that projected ore deposits amount to some 100 million tonnes.
Bashir has been a pariah for Western leaders since his indictment by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2009 over his regime's suppression of an ethnic minority rebellion in the western region of Darfur.
But Saudi Arabia has maintained relations despite the addition of genocide charges the following year and several Saudi ministers have met Bashir.
When Riyadh cut ties with Tehran in January in response to the sacking by protesters of two of its diplomatic missions in Iran following its execution of a leading Shiite Muslim cleric, Khartoum followed suit.
Analysts say the relationship serves both countries, with Sudan eager to ease its international isolation and Saudi Arabia looking for avenues for investment to loosen its dependence on oil.