Ahmadinejad's visit to Sudan's capital is just part of Teheran's quest for friends and allies.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's two-day state visit to Khartoum - to discuss security in the Gulf, Iran's nuclear program and events in the Arab and Muslim world - is part of an on-going process by the Iranians to have "friends" and allies, especially following their decision to ignore UN Security Council Resolution 1737, and their growing reputation for undermining international peace and security.
The visit by Ahmadinejad to Khartoum is not a surprise. The two countries share a number of interests and concerns, including the need to embrace economic development, terrorism and pariah status.
Sudan, despite producing more than 300,000 barrels of oil a day, has remained one of Africa's poorest nations. Iran is also experiencing major economic troubles, with the state owning 80 percent of the economy and unemployment standing at 11% to 25%. Approximately a million young Iranians look for jobs each year, but the economy produces less than half that many jobs.
That may explain why one out of every four Iranians is living in poverty. In the 1970s, Iran's GDP per person was 30% higher in real terms.
Consequently, Iran and Sudan need to increase their bilateral trade, which currently stands at $43 million. The Iranians are engaged in two major projects in Sudan - a water project worth $30m., and another in electricity production worth $130m. There is also talk of Iran helping Sudan in oil exploration.
A second area of mutual interest is terrorism. Both countries are known sponsors of terrorism. But while the Iranians have continued their open support of terrorist organizations, the Sudanese have increasingly endeavoured to appear to cooperate against known and suspected international terrorists.
Sudan has remained on the US State Department's list of countries that sponsor terrorism. But in 2005, the State Department declared that "overall cooperation and information-sharing improved markedly and produced significant progress in combating terrorist activity."
This meant that for the first time in over a decade Sudan was not included on the US government's list of countries not fully cooperating with American antiterrorism efforts. The change appears to be part of Washington's desire to partially reward Khartoum for its new-found commitment to fighting international terrorism, even though Khartoum has continued to support Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army and destabilize the governments in Chad and the Central African Republic.
Iran and Sudan have much to discuss regarding the threat of international condemnation, i.e. sanctions. Khartoum has engaged in a campaign of slaughter in Darfur, in which more than 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2.5 million displaced. Disgust with Khartoum has repeatedly brought the international community to decry what is taking place in Darfur. But the Sudanese government has managed to forestall the dispatching of an international force to the province, with the Sudanese president even saying Darfur would become the "graveyard" for Western troops and that he would not allow Darfur to be "occupied" by the West.
The decision by Iran to continue its uranium enrichment program, despite the UN, ensures that its pariah status remains. Therefore the Iranians are looking for allies, and none could be better than a country that commits grave human rights violations on a daily basis.
This may also explain the growing relations between Teheran and Zimbabwe. The Iranians have provided President Robert Mugabe's government with credit and support. Annual trade between the two is expected to reach $1.5 billion by 2010. Mugabe has declared that the two need to continue fighting against Western countries "and their evil systems."
Teheran has blatantly disregarded international norms and it will continue to do so unless the international community comes together and demands a substantial policy change in Teheran. But as long as Moscow and Beijing put their national interest first, and Iran is able to draw support from such regimes as Khartoum, Harare and Pyongyang, Teheran will continue to pose a threat to the maintenance of international peace and security.
It is a grave mistake to assume that a solution to the Iranian problem rests in New York or Washington. The real power rests with the Kremlin and the Politburo, and Putin and Hu Jintao can persuade Teheran to change its ways.
Dr. Isaac Kfir lectures on International Relations at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
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