September 3, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – Iran’s foreign ministry has denied reports that Sudan shut down its cultural centres in the country and asked one of its diplomats and the staff at the centres to leave the country within 72 hours.
- Sudanese naval officials wave as the Iranian Navy helicopter-carrier Kharg docks at Port Sudan in October 2012 (photo Press TV)
Fars News Agency (FNA) on Wednesday quoted the Iranian deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs, Hussein Amir Abdollahian, as saying that certain groups in Sudan are trying to impair the good relations between Tehran and Khartoum.
Abdollahian stressed that "embassies and cultural and economic missions of both the Islamic Republic of Iran and Sudan continue their normal operation in the two countries".
"Yet, we rest assured that the Sudanese leadership would never allow anyone to undermine the historical relations between the two countries," he added.
Sudan’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Youssef al-Kordofani, said in statements carried by state media on Tuesday that the government continued to monitor the centre’s activities and stressed that it had exceeded its mandate and posed a threat to the intellectual and social security in Sudan.
“It became necessary to take an official action against this centre, which has prompted the closure decision,” he said.
He also confirmed that the Iranian charge d’affaires was summonsed on Monday and informed of the decision and their request that the Iranian cultural attaché and the staff at the centre leave the country within 72 hours.
Some press reports have suggested that the Sudanese government’s decision was motivated by warnings made by religious circles as well as the media about the spread of Shiite ideology among Sudanese youngsters after the intensification of activities by the office of the Iranian cultural attaché in Khartoum.
Several religious forums had warned the Sudanese authorities against spread of the Shiite doctrine and considered it a serious threat that must be stopped.
A radical jihadist group under the name of “Hamza Group for Preaching and Jihad” issued a statement last month threatening the former managing director of Kenana Sugar Company Mohamed el-Mardi Tijani and religious cleric al-Nayel Abu-Guroon after accusing them of promoting the Shiite doctrine.
Sudan’s foreign minister, Ali Karti, told the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper on Wednesday that the Sudanese presidency had rejected a request from Iran to reverse its decision to close the centre.
“We have been closely monitoring the activities of the centre in Khartoum to verify that it is committed to cultural activities rather than seeking to make Shiite, sectarian gains that are alien to Sudanese society,” he said.
Karti said that the Sudanese authorities urged Tehran to stop what he described as “Shiite proselytizing” but that the cultural center had refused to comply.
“Unfortunately, the Iranians behind these exploitative activities were trying to spread Shi’ism by offering financial gains, as well as other unacceptable means,” he said.
He noted that the foreign ministry had summoned the centre’s leadership on several occasions in the past to complain about its activities, adding that the cultural centere’s continued non-compliance prompted the presidency to issue the “necessary decision, which came as a surprise to officials in Tehran”.
The Sudanese top diplomat further said that activities organised by the centre in poor neighbourhoods and university campuses across Sudan “confirmed to us beyond any doubt the center has deviated from its agreed-upon cultural role”.
Sudan’s foreign minister further said they sought to promote common interests with Tehran without hurting other Gulf or Arab or African neighbouring countries, adding they would not allow Iran to exploit Sudan’s economic, military or political needs to achieve its goals at the expense of society, religion and friendship.
The warm political ties between Khartoum and Tehran have angered Arab Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and led to strained relations with them.
Over the past few years there have been mounting signs of deterioration in relations between Khartoum and Riyadh.
Last year, Saudi Arabia closed its airspace to the plane carrying the Sudanese president on his way to Tehran where he was scheduled to attend the inauguration ceremony of president-elect Hassan Rouhani, thus forcing him and his delegation to return home.
Sudan has also regularly allowed Iranian warships to dock in Port Sudan across from Saudi Arabia, drawing the concern of the United States and its allies in the Gulf.