DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, May 17, (Agencies): Saudi Arabia is literally counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until Donald Trump lands in the kingdom for his first overseas trip as US president this weekend. The kingdom has launched a website in four languages with a countdown clock and details about the visit, which is packed with meetings .
After meeting King Salman on Saturday, Trump is scheduled to take part Sunday in a pan-Arab and Islamic summit with leaders from across the Middle East, Africa and Asia. He is also scheduled to hold a separate joint session with the Arab rulers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain. Coinciding with the visit is a business forum Saturday in Riyadh with CEOs from companies like GE and Dow Chemical.
Meanwhile, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has been charged with war crimes and genocide, will attend the same summit in Saudi Arabia as US President Donald Trump, Khartoum’s top diplomat said Wednesday. “I can confirm President Bashir will go … to Saudi Arabia,” Sudan’s foreign minister Ibrahim Ghandour told reporters in Geneva. “We look forward (to) normalisation of our relations with the US.” The Saudi-hosted summit of Arab and Muslim leaders is expected to include top level talks on Sunday.
Trump is scheduled to be in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, from Saturday on his first foreign trip since taking office in January. Asked if Bashir expected to shake hands with the US president, Ghandour said it was impossible to predict, but added that “a handshake doesn’t mean a lot if relations are not (good)”.
Bashir has evaded arrest since his indictment by the International Criminal Court in 2009 for alleged genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the confl ict in Darfur that has killed tens of thousands. He denies the charges. Khartoum has said it is keen to improve relations with Washington under Trump.
“Sudan renews its commitment to continue a bilateral dialogue in order to reach full and normal relations between the two countries in the interests of their peoples,” its foreign ministry said on March 7. That was despite Sudan’s inclusion on an executive order signed by Trump in March to temporarily close US borders to nationals from six Muslim-majority countries.
The travel ban has since been blocked by a US judge. After signing of the order, however, Sudan voiced “deep regret and discontent” over the move. It condemned the ban, saying it came despite Khartoum engaging in talks with Washington on fighting terrorism. “These negotiations confirmed that Sudan plays a big role as a partner in fighting terrorism that endangers people of both countries and of the world,” the foreign ministry said at the time.
Before leaving office, president Barack Obama eased decades-old US sanctions against Sudan, but kept Khartoum on the blacklist. Sudan was designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 and has been subject to a US trade embargo since 1997 over its alleged support for Islamist groups. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was based in Khartoum from 1992 to 1996.
Washington believes Khartoum’s terror ties have ebbed, but has kept sanctions in place because of the scorched-earth tactics it has used against ethnic minority rebels in Darfur. An end to fighting in Sudan’s hotspots — Blue Nile and South Kordofan states as well as the Darfur region — had been set as a precondition for sanctions being lifted. According to the United Nations, 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced since the Darfur conflict erupted in 2003. South Africa came under fire for failing to arrest Bashir in 2015 when he attended an African Union summit in Johannesburg.