Sudan's Bashir to attend Saudi gathering on Saturday
May 17, 2017 | 8:09 PM
by Reuters
Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir speaks during a press conference after the oath of the prime minister and first vice president Bakri Hassan Saleh at the palace in Khartoum, Sudan March 2, 2017. Photo - Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Files

Geneva: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will attend a gathering in Saudi Arabia on Saturday where Donald Trump will also be present but it is uncertain whether he will meet the U.S. president, Sudan's foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Bashir is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and is shunned by Western leaders, so direct contact between him and Trump would be a diplomatic bombshell, despite a thawing of relations between Washington and Khartoum in recent months.

"On the question of the Trump-Bashir handshake, nobody can pretend anything, but anyway President Bashir has been invited by the Saudis to be in that conference," Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour told reporters in Geneva.

"We hope that everything will go through as it has been planned, and we look forward for normalisation of our relations with the U.S.," Ghandour said, adding that he would travel with Bashir to Riyadh on Friday.

Asked if he hoped to see the two leaders shake hands, Ghandour said: "I don’t have dreams but I have hopes, and I hope they will be materialised.”

Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia on Saturday is the first stop on his maiden international trip as president that will also take him to Israel and Europe. Bashir, who came to power in Sudan in a 1989 extremist and military-backed coup, was charged with genocide and crimes against humanity in 2008.

He denies all the charges and has continued to travel abroad, trailed by human rights activists and shunned by Western diplomats.

In January, Trump's predecessor in the White House, Barack Obama, ordered the lifting of a 20-year U.S. trade embargo and financial sanctions after 180 days, provided that Khartoum acts further to improve human rights.

Ghandour dismissed the ICC as a "political tool" used against Sudan, and said Khartoum wanted to open up to trade and was supportive of international efforts to combat extremist militants in the wider region.

He also urged the United States to play a stronger role in peacemaking in Syria and in Yemen.

Sudanese troops are part of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and are helping to train the Yemeni army.

Ghandour denied reports that Sudan was involved militarily in Libya and that it had helped to supply portable anti-aircraft missiles to rebels battling President Bashar Al Assad's forces in Syria.

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