CAIRO – Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir met on Sunday with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo, defiant of the International Criminal Court's two arrest warrants against him for an alleged role in his country's turbulent western Darfur region.
The visit underlines a renewed interest in cooperation between the two neighbors, after what many saw as a period of neglect in the years before Egypt's new Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was elected this summer.
Relations largely deteriorated after former President Hosni Mubarak accused Sudan of harboring those suspected of being behind an assassination attempt against him in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa in 1995.
Prior to the trip, London-based Amnesty International called on Cairo to withdraw its invitation to the Sudanese leader or arrest him on arrival, but Egypt does not recognize the court's jurisdiction and instead welcomed al-Bashir at the airport with a delegation led by Vice President Mahmoud Mekki.
It was at least al-Bashir's third visit to Egypt since an arrest warrant was issued in 2009.
Morsi's spokesman Yasser Ali told reporters that Cairo follows the African Union's line with regard to al-Bashir, which asserts that ICC arrest warrants do not lift immunity for heads of state, and that in any case the U.N. Security Council has not lifted the Sudanese president's immunity.
Signaling a shift in relations, al-Bashir and Morsi discussed boosting investment and trade, and opening a land route to better connect the two countries, the spokesman added.
Internationally, both countries have vested interests in keeping intact a 1959 agreement that allocates the bulk of Nile River water to Sudan and Egypt, despite calls for a new agreement supported by nine countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. In particular, Egypt's population of 82 million lives mostly along the Nile River and relies heavily on it as a main water resource.
Egypt's prime and foreign ministers attended the bilateral meeting between Morsi and al-Bashir, as did Egyptian ministers for irrigation, electricity, investment and industry. On the Sudanese side, the country's prime minister, head of security and intelligence and ministers for electricity, agriculture, investment, industry, dams and livestock were present, according to Egypt's official news agency MENA.
Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil is scheduled to visit Sudan Wednesday and Thursday.