GENEVA Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will attend a gathering in Saudi Arabia on Saturday but has received no indication whether he will meet U.S. President Donald Trump there, Sudan's foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Bashir is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and is shunned by Western leaders, so any direct contact would be a diplomatic bombshell, despite thawing relations between Washington and Khartoum in recent months.
Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia on Saturday is the first stop on his maiden international trip as president that will also take him to Israel and Europe.
"On the question of the Trump-Bashir handshake, nobody can pretend anything, but anyway, President Bashir has been invited by the Saudis to be in that conference," Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour told reporters in Geneva.
"We hope that everything will go through as it has been planned, and we look forward for normalisation of our relations with the U.S.," Ghandour said, adding that he would travel with Bashir to Riyadh on Friday.
Asked if he hoped to see the two leaders shake hands, Ghandour said: "I don’t have dreams but I have hopes, and I hope they will be materialised.”
Bashir, who came to power in Sudan in a 1989 Islamist and military-backed coup, was charged with genocide and crimes against humanity in 2008. He denies the charges and continues to travel abroad, trailed by human rights activists and shunned by Western diplomats.
Ghandour dismissed the ICC as a "political tool". "It's a white man's court created to indict people in Africa", he said.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has called on all states to help with Bashir's arrest and urged the U.N. Security Council to take “robust and concrete measures” to ensure they do.
Bashir faces three counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes for the murder and persecution of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups in the Darfur province.
Ghandour said Darfur was now peaceful and Khartoum wanted to open up to trade. It also supported international efforts to combat Islamist militants in the wider region.
In January, Trump's predecessor Barack Obama ordered the lifting of a 20-year U.S. trade embargo and financial sanctions after 180 days, provided that Khartoum acts to further improve its human rights record.
Ghandour hoped the sanctions would finally be lifted after an evaluation on July 12, a major step towards integration with the world economy.
Sudan hopes to join the World Trade Organization later this year and reform its economy, which mostly produces gold, gum arabic and farm produce. Ghandour said he also hoped to resolve a trade dispute with Egypt at a meeting in Cairo on May 31.
He also urged the United States to play a stronger role in peacemaking in Syria and in Yemen, where Sudanese troops are part of a Saudi-led coalition.
Ghandour denied reports that Sudan was involved militarily in Libya and that it had helped to supply portable anti-aircraft missiles to rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Additional reporting by Stephanie van den Berg in the Hague; Editing by Tom Heneghan)