CAIRO - Ties between Egypt and Sudan appeared to be on the mend Saturday, following a belated visit to Cairo by Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour. Ghandour had been scheduled to meet with top Egyptian officials earlier in the week, but the visit was postponed amid a public spat between the presidents of both countries over the imposition of visas on Egyptian nationals.
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir had accused Egypt last month of supporting armed militants in both South Sudan and Darfour, claiming that Egypt had supplied them with armored vehicles. Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi denied the claim, while Egyptian media accused Sudan of supporting terrorists in southern Libya following a recent terror attack, which left several dozen Coptic Christians dead in the south of the country.
Ghandour told a news conference following his meeting with President Sissi that it was difficult for a country like Sudan, with lengthy borders, to control everything that was flowing in and out of the country, but that joint efforts are being made with Khartoum's neighbors to prevent terrorists from infiltrating.
He says that Egypt and Sudan share a 1200 kilometer land border and that it is virtually impossible to patrol the entire length of it. But, he insists, Khartoum is proposing to Egypt similar arrangements that it has with neighbors Chad and Ethiopia to set up joint border patrols to monitor what is going in and out. He argues that such an agreement with Chad has reduced the flow of (militants) in and out of the country.
Ghandour noted that trade and consular disputes between both countries were also being studied by joint delegations to try and resolve them. He claimed that the imposition of visas on Egyptian nationals stemmed from Egyptian complaints about the flow of terrorists into Sudan. It was not clear if any progress was made in resolving the dispute, however.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, for his part, tried to downplay recent friction between the two sides, arguing that both countries were trying to "open a new page in cultural, security and economic relations":
He says that Egypt has absolutely no interest in doing anything that would harm Sudan, and that a strong Sudan was in Egypt's interest and vice versa.
Ghandour said that the peoples of both countries have a "long history of friendship," and he urged both sides "not to do anything that would poison the relations between our two peoples." Both Egypt and Sudan were united under the Egyptian monarchy, which was deposed by a revolution led by Egyptian military officers in 1952. Sudan officially became independent after a referendum in 1956.
Ghandour told journalists that both Egyptian President Sisi and Sudanese President Bashir had met 18 times in recent years, which he stressed is more than the leaders of any other neighboring states.
Ties between Egypt and Sudan have also been strained in recent years over an Ethiopian project to build a dam on the Nile River. Egypt is concerned that dam's construction and the filling of an artificial lake behind it will lessen the water flow of the Nile, harming Egyptian agriculture and the country's vital water needs.
Egypt points to an international agreement under British colonial rule, which guaranteed it the lion's share of the Nile's waters. Ethiopia and nations upstream have argued that the agreement was unfair and needs to be revised.