(Bloomberg) -- The leaders of Israel and Sudan met Monday and agreed to cooperate toward a goal of normalizing ties between the two countries, according to the office of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The surprise meeting between Netanyahu and Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan’s sovereign council, came at the end of a visit by the Israeli leader to Uganda to meet with that nation’s leaders.
It could further Sudan’s efforts to get the U.S. to take it off its list of state sponsors of terrorism as the country edges toward democracy after its longtime leader was ousted from power last year. It could also help Netanyahu’s reelection bid, giving him a diplomatic victory ahead of a national ballot on March 2.
U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo welcomed the meeting and “thanked General al-Burhan for his leadership in normalizing ties with Israel,” the State Department said in a statement.
The government of Sudan was not notified or consulted on the meeting between the two, the state-run SUNA news agency reported, citing Sudanese information minister Faisal Saleh.
The two nations are moving to boost relations more than four decades after Netanyahu’s brother Yonatan Netanyahu was killed in an operation that rescued Israeli hostages, whose plane was forced to Uganda’s Entebbe airport by Palestinian hijackers.
Israel and Uganda discussed opening of embassies in their countries. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni announced the plans on Twitter without revealing if his government would open its Israeli embassy in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
The two countries are already cooperating in sectors including agriculture, security, health, and communication information and technology, said Museveni. Netanyahu proposed commencement of flights between Tel Aviv and Entebbe, he said.
No government of the Muslim-majority Sudan since its independence in 1956 has recognized Israel. Israeli officials had previously identified Sudan as a conduit for Iranian weapons bound for Israel’s enemies.
Israel and Netanyahu are working to normalize relations with Arab and Muslim-majority states.
Netanyahu is in the fight for his political life, dogged by corruption charges and consecutive failures to form a government after back-to-back elections last year.
He is playing up his diplomatic prowess ahead of the upcoming vote, with visits last week with U.S. President Donald Trump for the unveiling of his Mideast peace plan -- and to see Russian President Vladimir Putin, where he brought home an Israeli woman who had been imprisoned in Russia.
(Updated with comments from Pompeo and Sudan minister.)
--With assistance from Jon Herskovitz and Zaid Sabah.
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