KHARTOUM, June 20 (Reuters) - South Sudan’s vice president will visit Khartoum next week, Sudanese state media said on Thursday, marking the highest-level talks since Sudan threatened to cut off cross-border oil flows almost two weeks ago.
Bilateral ties hit a new low this month when Sudan said it would halt oil exports that pass through Sudan for shipment abroad within 60 days unless Juba gave up support for rebels operating across the shared border. Juba denies the claims.
Since then, the African Union has been trying to defuse the situation, hoping a relative peace will hold between the neighbours, which split in 2011.
The two, which fought decades of civil wars that ended in 2005, came close to war in April 2012 when tensions over oil pipeline fees and disputed territory escalated.
Both countries agreed South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar will visit Sudan in one week, state news agency SUNA said, citing the Foreign Ministry. His trip had been planned for Sunday, but was delayed because some Sudanese ministers would be out of Khartoum then, it added.
There was no immediate comment from the South, which has said it would send Machar to defuse the oil crisis.
The dispute threatens to hit supplies to Asian buyers such as China National Petroleum Corp, India’s ONCG Videsh and Malaysia’s Petronas, which run the oilfields in both countries.
Diplomats doubt Sudan will close the two cross-border export pipelines because its economy has been suffering without South Sudan’s pipeline fees.
Oil used to be the main source for Sudan’s budget until southern secession in July 2011, when Khartoum lost 75 percent of its oil production and its status as oil exporter overnight.
Both countries accuse each other of backing rebels on the other’s territory, one of several conflicts stemming from the split of what was once Africa’s largest country. (Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Stacey Joyce)