Saudi Arabia and Sudan naval forces have started joint exercises on the Sudanese coast of the Red Sea in the first operation of its kind.
The Sudanese army spokesperson, Sawarmi Khaled Saad, told the official Sudanese News Agency (SUNA) that the operation aims to: "train the naval forces of both countries to combat the different forms of smuggling taking place in the Red Sea; boost security and stability in the region; strengthen cooperation between the two navies; and standardize the military language to facilitate the implementation of the tasks in the future."
The Sudanese military spokesperson noted that "the joint training project came as part of a program planned two months ago that entails the exchange of delegations between the two countries."
Last October, the presence of Iranian ships on the Sudanese coast raised suspicion amongst several countries about the existence of a military pact between Tehran and Khartoum. The first Iranian ships had entered Sudanese waters days after Khartoum accused Israel of an air strike against the Yarmouk military factory, south of the capital. A second contingent of Iranian ships subsequently arrived last December.
Sudan's Foreign Minister, Ali Karti, disclosed that after the arrival of the Iranian ships last October the Gulf countries became suspicious of the relationship between Khatoum and Tehran. Some described it as a threat to the relationship with the Gulf countries.
In a related matter, Sudan is counting on Gulf loans and investments to rescue its economy, which received a crushing blow after the secession of the south last year and the loss of more than 50% of its revenues. 75% of the oil fields are in the south.
Analysts linked the arrival of Iranian ships with the postponement of the Saudi-Sudanese Economic Forum from this February to next April. However, Minister of Sudan's Supreme Council for Investment, Mustafa Osman, said in a press statement that the postponement "was made by mutual agreement for further improvement and promotion."
Mustafa also added that scenarios for 450 projects costing $13.5 billion have been prepared to be discussed at the forum.
He noted that his government depends on Saudi investments and gives them full attention due to the similarity of the Saudi market and its incorporation of investment projects in Sudan.