President Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia in mid-May appears to have been far more consequential than first reported. During his speech at the Gulf Cooperation Council on May 21, in Riyadh, the president strengthened the strategic U.S.-Saudi relationship, reasserting America’s alignment with Sunni allies and Gulf States in the wake of the previous administration’s rapprochement with Iran.
Trump’s tough talk on Iran was music to King Salman’s ears. Since the signing of the JCPOA, informally known as the Iran nuclear deal, the Saudis have raised the alarm bell about America’s shifting loyalties toward Tehran and its Shiite affiliates. In response, the Saudi's have created stronger partnerships with not just Sunni states within their orbit of influence, but Israel, forming a de facto anti-Iran coalition.
But Trump’s May 21 speech seemed to show that the Saudis, once again, had a friend in the White House willing to push back against Iran’s increasingly aggressive expansionism in the region.
Here’s what Trump had to say about Iranian terror-financing:
But no discussion of stamping out this threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists all three — safe harbor, financial backing, and the social standing needed for recruitment. It is a regime that is responsible for so much instability in the region. I am speaking of course of Iran.
From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region. For decades, Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror.
It is a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.
Among Iran's most tragic and destabilizing interventions have been in Syria. Bolstered by Iran, Assad has committed unspeakable crimes, and the United States has taken firm action in response to the use of banned chemical weapons by the Assad Regime — launching 59 tomahawk missiles at the Syrian air base from where that murderous attack originated.
Responsible nations must work together to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria, eradicate ISIS, and restore stability to the region. The Iranian regime's longest-suffering victims are its own people. Iran has a rich history and culture, but the people of Iran have endured hardship and despair under their leaders' reckless pursuit of conflict and terror.
Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.
Trump’s speech wasn’t just a slaw of empty words, or diplo-speak, promising “cooperation” without resolute action.
It’s true that Trump’s self-proclaimed $110 billion weapons-deal with the Saudis wasn’t nearly as prolific as it was billed out to be. According to The Brookings Institute, “there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts. Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday. So far nothing has been notified to the Senate for review.”
Nonetheless, arms-deals, however tentative, may have not been all that was discussed during the GCC summit.
The Daily Wire has learned that Trump personally met with Sudan’s now-former state presidential minister and director of the president’s offices, Lt. Gen. Taha Osman al-Hussein.
An image leaked by SudanAkhbar.com appears to show Trump shaking hands with al-Hussein. See the image below:
All Africa (via The Sudan News Agency) reported that al-Hussein was indeed at the GCC summit in Riyadh:
The State Minister, at the Presidency, Director of the President's Office, General, Taha Al-Hussein arrived in Raiyah, Saturday, to represent President of the Republic, Field Marshal, Omer Al-Basher, in the Arab-Islamic-US Summit.
General, Taha was received, at King Salman Airbase, in Riyadh, State Minister, Member of Council of Ministers, Mohammed Bin Faisal Abu-Sag, the Assistant Commander of King Salman Airbase, General, Pilot, Nasser Al-Gahtani, Saudi Ambassador to Sudan and Sudan Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
So why is this important?
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, who the ICC accuses of crimes against humanity, opted to skip the GCC summit after pushback from the United States.
"We oppose invitations, facilitation, or support for travel by any person subject to outstanding (International Criminal Court) arrest warrants, including President Bashir," said the State Department at the time.
If Washington was so opposed to Bashir attending the summit, then why did Trump meet with al-Hussein, a representative of Sudan’s government?
A source familiar with White House policy on the Horn of Africa has told The Daily Wire that al-Hussein, unlike Bashir, supports the administration’s policies against Iran.
“Taha [al-Hussein’s first name] is a reliably pro-American partner,” the source said. “He was instrumental in making Washington lift sanctions against Sudan in January, promising security cooperation with the United States and its allies in counter-terrorism efforts.”
“He played a huge part in shutting down Iranian Shiite cultural centers in 2014 in a concession to Saudi Arabia,” the source added. "He met with Trump for a good reason."
Sudan Tribune reported on the closures in September 2014.
“Sudanese authorities…ordered the closure of Iranian cultural centre in the capital Khartoum, and other states…” reported Sudan Tribune. “The Iranian cultural attaché and the staff at the Khartoum centre were also asked to leave the country within 72 hours. The government has not issued any official explanation for the abrupt move but the foreign ministry today summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires and informed him of the decision.”
The Daily Wire reported on U.S. sanctions-relief for Sudan in January.
“The Obama administration’s newfound friendliness toward Khartoum was hinted at in late September when spokesman John Kirby issued a spontaneous, seemingly out-of-blue statement praising “Sudan's recent efforts to increase counterterrorism cooperation with the United States.”
In a report detailing the reasons behind the seemingly spontaneous U.S. move to lift sanctions on the terrorism-sponsoring state, the Associated Press noted that the decision was connected to Sudan’s “greater alignment with Saudi Arabia” and “less with Iran.”
“Sudan's changes have largely occurred below the radar. But the U.S. credits the country with limiting travel of ISIS militants and shifting toward greater alignment with Saudi Arabia, and less with Iran,” explained AP. “Israel also has pressed the U.S. to adopt a friendlier relationship with Sudan after it cracked down on shipments of suspected Iranian weapons to groups hostile to the Jewish state.”
If al-Hussein was the driving force behind this realignment, then Trump’s meeting with him may have been incredibly consequential insofar as that it may have involved discussion about bolstering a possible Saudi-led anti-Iran coalition.
As The Wall Street Journal reported, Sudan didn’t just order “the network of Iran’s cultural centers in [the] country shut down, ostensibly on the grounds that they were propagating Shiite Islam in a country that has virtually no Shiites.”
President Bashir “in April, unexpectedly joined Saudi Arabia and its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council monarchies in the war in Yemen, sending Sudanese warplanes to bomb pro-Iranian Houthi forces,” according to The Journal. “He also sought to nurture close ties with Egypt’s new ruler, President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. In a Middle East divided along sectarian lines, impoverished Sudan—the Arab world’s third-largest nation by population and size—for now has firmly placed itself in the Saudi-led Sunni camp.”
Bashir himself is on record saying that Sudan “cannot have strategic ties with Iran at this time [of] escalating tensions between Sunnis and Shiites.”
Such a stance has undermined Iran’s strategic goals of exporting terrorism in the region.
“Iran stands to lose a conduit [in Sudan] through which it has passed arms to Hamas,” notes The American Interest.
The question is whether or not Sudan is a reliable pro-American, pro-administration partner in the Saudi-led coalition against Iran in light of the messy and unprecedented diplomatic row pitting Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen against Qatar, a Sunni-run state accused of getting a little too close to Iran.
With President Bashir at the helm, this remains to be seen. In fact, Bashir just dismissed al-Hussein Wednesday in a shocking move that is already raising questions about Sudan’s precarious relationship with Iran.
"Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir relieved on Wednesday the state presidential minister and director of the president’s offices Taha Osman al-Hussein amid conflicting reports on the reasons behind the move,” reports pan-Arab daily news site Asharq al-Awsat.
Asharq al-Awsat continues:
Reliable sources said that al-Hussein, who gained a reputation as being the most influential person within the president’s inner circle, was informed of his removal verbally before he was allowed to leave for Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah.
The reason behind the sacking of Hussein is not yet known. Also, unconfirmed reports say he was arrested on Tuesday evening after he sought to travel to Saudi Arabia.
During the last couple of years, al-Hussein played a pivotal role within the presidency and appeared to be the person behind important decisions especially after Bashir named him as personal envoy to a number of countries including Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Hussein’s last assignment was his participation in the Arab-US Islamic Summit in Riyadh last May where he represented Bashir, whose participation was vetoed by Washington.
His powers have significantly infringed on the role of the foreign ministry on several occasions.
In 2016 he conveyed Bashir’s decision to cut ties with Iran to the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman without the knowledge of the foreign ministry officials who read the news on media.
Also, following an unannounced visit to Washington last December in which he met with a number of congressmen and former President Jimmy Carter, he claimed he was the person behind the US decision to ease the 19-year sanctions on Sudan.
All the evidence points to the theory that al-Hussein was sacked over his pro-Saudi, anti-Iran maneuvering. As one of the most powerful men in Khartoum, behind Bashir, al-Hussein’s influence over Sudanese foreign policy was impossible to deny.
Whether or not it’s just a coincidence that al-Hussein’s ousting comes less than a month after his face-to-face with President Trump has yet to be definitively determined.
However, the recent Saudi-led diplomatic rift with Qatar was probably a precipitating factor that led the Bashir government to letting go of al-Hussein.
"Let's be clear about this. Taha was sacked because of his position on Qatar," the source familiar with White House policy on the Horn of Africa told The Daily Wire. "Qatar's links with Iran prompted Taha to take a hard line stance in support of the Saudi political blockade. Bashir didn't want to put all his eggs in one basket though."