Sudan and the resumption of relations with Iran

Jun 4, 2024 - 10:41
Sudan and the resumption of relations with Iran


After Iran and Sudan announced in a statement on October 17, 2023 that they would resume their diplomatic relations, on June 5 of this year, the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sudan visited Iran and the two sides announced an agreement to speed up the process of reopening the embassy in the country. But why were the relations between the two countries interrupted and then resumed?



Relations between Iran and Sudan date back to 1989 when Tehran supported the coup d'état of Omar al-Bashir, who later became Sudan's president. During the 1990s and 2000s, Iran provided development aid and military assistance to Sudan. Taking advantage of Sudan's location on the Red Sea, Tehran exported oil to African countries and supplied weapons to the Houthis in Yemen and Palestinian groups in Gaza.


Sudan also provided diplomatic support to Tehran, recognizing Iran's right to pursue its nuclear program and voting against UN General Assembly resolutions targeting Iran. From 1979 to 2021, Sudan was Iran's third-largest trading partner in Africa, accounting for an average of 3% of its annual trade with the continent.


However, between 2013 and 2016, relations between Iran and Sudan experienced significant tensions. In 2014, Sudan closed Iran's cultural center and expelled diplomatic officials accused of promoting Shiism in a predominantly Sunni country. Two years later, in 2016, Sudan, along with other Horn of Africa countries, cut official ties with Tehran.


These withdrawals were a result of Iran's decision to shift its focus to nuclear diplomacy with the United States and other world powers, leading to its disengagement from Sudan and Africa. This coincided with increased military, diplomatic, and economic aid from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to Sudan and other Horn of Africa countries. This aid was in exchange for joining the coalition led by Saudi Arabia against the Iran-backed Houthi movement in Yemen.


The aid was particularly appealing to Sudan, which has been facing isolation and economic hardship due to Omar al-Bashir's arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court, the secession of oil-rich South Sudan, and intensified US sanctions.[1]


However, despite the misconception that the relations between the two countries were severed due to the attack on the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Tehran, the reality is that Iran and Sudan were already experiencing issues prior to the attack. The main reason behind this was Iran's increasing influence in Sudan, which led to pressure from the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE for Sudan to sever ties with Iran. In exchange for cutting off relations with Iran, Sudan was promised political and economic concessions.



Sudan initially made a decision but later recognized his mistake. Subsequently, the government of Sudan, led by Omar al-Bashir, hoped that aid from other countries would help solve the economic issues facing the people. However, they were met with popular protests and ultimately a coup d'état by the army. As a result, the country is now embroiled in a civil war for control.


In any case, considering the ongoing process of reconciliation in the region among the countries involved, Sudan is well aware of the importance of being a part of this process. On the other hand, Iran is looking to expand its economic markets in Africa and is seeking to establish a strong relationship with one of the East African countries to serve as its export base to the continent.


The history of Iran's collaboration with Sudan has demonstrated that Sudan has the potential to be a successful business hub for Iran. Iranians are familiar with the Sudanese landscape, making it easier for them to conduct business through Sudan compared to other African countries with which they are less familiar.


According to its capabilities, Sudan can serve as Iran's industrial and agricultural production space for re-exporting goods to other African countries. It can also produce agricultural goods that Iran may need.


Establishing relations with Sudan should be considered as breaking the last remaining link in restoring Iran's relations with all Arab countries. Currently, only two other Arab countries, Morocco and Bahrain, do not officially have political relations with Iran. It can be imagined that the process of reconciliation in the near future will also include them.[2]


Furthermore, there is a possibility that the legitimate government of Sudan will turn to purchasing Iranian weapons to meet its defense needs. This would make Sudan once again one of the markets for Iran's defense goods.


Recently, the Reuters news agency reported, quoting several sources including Iranian sources, that the Sudanese army has achieved victories and advances in the civil war using drones received from Iran.


A senior Sudanese military source informed Reuters that one year into Sudan's civil war, Iranian-made military drones have been instrumental in shifting the course of the conflict. They have helped in stopping the advance of rapid support forces and reclaiming areas around the capital.


Iran has done this to show power, strengthen alliances, and influence conflicts in the Middle East and other regions. At the same time, it can be a profitable source of income for Iran's economy and a showcase for the introduction of this country's technology.



Arming Sudan's armed forces helps both Iran's broader geopolitical goals and its competition with regional rivals, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel.[3]



Sudan, the third most populous African country, has many cultural and religious commonalities with Iran. In order to benefit from these capacities and in line with the pursuit and operationalization of the principle of "breaking monopoly in diplomatic relations," interaction with African countries can be implemented.



Although external factors and conditions, such as Saudi Arabia's influence on Sudan and the dependence and vulnerability of some officials in relation to the United States, have caused this country to distance itself from Iran, recent developments indicate that there will be revisions in the overall strategy of the Sudanese government towards Iran. Iran can see this as an opportunity, while also keeping in mind that the fate of the relationship with Sudan will always be influenced and shadowed by developments in Iran-Saudi relations.[4]


Currently, the government of Khartoum has concluded that it should expand its relations with Iran. These relations can be beneficial for both countries. Sudan can benefit from Iran's capacities, and on the other hand, considering that Sudan is located on the edge of the Red Sea, this issue can bring many economic and strategic opportunities for Iran.