October 31, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – Two Iranian warships departed on Wednesday from an eastern port in Sudan after a four-day stay which fueled speculations about military cooperation between the two countries less than a week after Khartoum accused Israel of bombing a Sudanese arms factory rumored to be linked to Tehran.
- Iranian Navy destroyer Shahid Naqdi is pictured at Port Sudan at the Red Sea State, October 31, 2012 (REUTERS)
The two vessels, supply and helicopter carrier Kharg and corvette Admiral Naghdi, docked in Port Sudan on Monday as part of what both Iranian and Sudanese officials described as a “routine” visit.
Sudan army spokesperson, Al-Sawarmi Khalid Saad, said the visit “presented an opportunity for Sudanese navy officers and students of maritime studies to watch the advanced weapons and assess the capabilities of these cutting-edge warships”
He also said that the visit came as part of the two countries’ efforts to strengthen "diplomatic, political and security" ties.
The two ships left Port Sudan at 8 am local time after spending three days during which joint workshops were held in the field of “exchanging scientific experiences”, Al-Sawarmi told Sudan official news agency SUNA.
The army spokesperson reiterated that the visit was not linked to the destruction of Al-Yarmook military factory in Southern Khartoum on Tuesday, 23 October, by what Sudan alleged was four Israeli fighter jets, telling Al-Arabiya satellite channel that the visit was planned two months ago.
The Sudanese Naval Forces (SNF) organized popular and official celebrations of the arrival of the two warships. SNF also allowed members of the public to enter the northern port and the two vessels where they received general information about their capabilities and crew.
The crew of the two ships is made up of over 300 personnel including military experts, officers and soldiers as well as weapons, radar and supply technicians.
Abduallh Al-Matari, commander-in-chief of SNF’s 101 brigade, told reporters that there is absolutely no link between the “Israeli aggression” on Al-Yarmook factory and the visit of the Iranian warships. He claimed that the visit was planned three months ago.
In Khartoum, meanwhile, the official spokesperson of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), Badr Al-Din Ibrahim, described the arrival of the Iranian warships one week after Al-Yarmook strike as a “coincidence”
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied that it carried out the airstrike in the capital of the East Africa Muslim country which Tel Aviv accuses of channeling weapons to the Gaza Strip, controlled by Iran’s ally Hamas, via Egypt’s Sinai desert.
Khartoum strongly denies the charge and dismissed as “false” media reports that suggested that Al-Yarmook was producing Iranian weapons saying Israel was behind the rumors.
In a related development, the United States said on Wednesday that it was closely monitoring the visit of the Iranian warships to Khartoum.
Acting US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said his country was "obviously watching that closely." "We monitor Iran’s activities in the region very closely," he added.
The daily Sudanese newspaper Al-Ray Al-Amm reported on Tuesday that the US embassy in Khartoum downsized its staff members. Citing informed sources, the paper said nearly 15 US diplomats left Khartoum to Washington immediately after the strike on Al-Yarmook.
Responding to the move, Sudan foreign minister Ali Karti said that the decision concerns Washington alone. He however linked the move to Al-Yarmook strike saying it reflects Washington’s feeling that it was part of what happened even if it was not directly involved rather than its fears for the safety of its diplomats.