Monday, March 05, 2007

Iran, Sudan close ranks in face of Western pressure

CNN March 1, 2007.

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) -- Leaders of two nations faced with strong international pressure -- Iran for its nuclear program and Sudan because of the conflict in Darfur -- closed ranks as Sudan's Omar al-Bashir and visiting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran gushed in support of one another.

"Enemies try by force to prevent Sudan from emerging powerful in the region, as they do in Iran's case," Ahmadinejad declared on Wednesday after arriving in Khartoum.

The Persian nation's president said Iran considers "progress, dignity and power of Sudan" as important as its own, and "extends ideological support" to the country, Iran's state IRNA news agency reported.

"There is no limit to the expansion of relations with Sudan," said Ahmadinejad, announcing a "new chapter" in oil, energy, industry and agriculture sectors between the two countries.

Meanwhile, Sudan's President al-Bashir said Iran was within its "absolute right" to pursue a nuclear program -- which is condemned by the U.N. Security Council and the United States, worried that Tehran is using it to mask efforts to create nuclear weapons.

"Attempts by some countries that possess lethal nuclear weapons to frustrate Iran's right in using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes reflect double standards that dominate the international scene," al-Bashir said.

Those same countries "turn a blind eye on Israel's nuclear arsenal and are incapable of forcing it to relinquish its arms so that the Middle East could be a nuclear-free zone," al-Bashir added. Israel, which is believed to possess nuclear weapons of its own but has never publicly acknowledged it, considers a nuclear armed Iran as the greatest threat to its existence.

Ahmadinejad's visit to Sudan comes a day after the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor accused a junior member of al-Bashir's Cabinet of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

During his two-day visit, Ahmadinejad will deliver a lecture at a private institution in Khartoum and witness the signing of several bilateral agreements, according to Sudan's Information Ministry.

Sudanese state SUNA news agency said the visit would promote "cooperation in defense relations, the exchange of expertise and scientific and technological capabilities."

Iranian ambassador in Khartoum, Ridha Amiri, said the trade volume between the two countries is expected to jump from $43 million to about $70 million.

During Ahmadinejad's visit, Sudanese defense minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Hussein said that "both Sudan and Iran are being subjected to similar international challenges, particularly from the Untied States in its attempt to rearrange the Middle East."

For his part, Ahmadinejad said "foreign presence" -- shorthand for U.S. troops -- is the root cause of problems in Iraq. "Today, continued occupation has added to insecurity and problems in Iraq," he said, and urged the "occupiers of the country" to revise their policies.

Ahmadinejad said that preserving the "legal government, territorial integrity and national unity in Iraq is the key to resolving the country's problems."

The U.S. has accused Iran of helping support Shiite militants in Iraq, but Ahmadinejad hurled accusations back on Wednesday, saying the "occupiers" want to prevent Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and other ethnic groups in Iraq from living peacefully together.

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