Sudan's new leader has moved to make this strategic country's relations with the Soviet Union, Ethiopia and Libya "far better than they used to be during the past regime," he said today.
Gen. Abdelrahman Sawar-Dhahab added that "we are receiving positive responses" to letters sent to the leaders of those countries in the nine days since the overthrow of president Jaafar Nimeri's 16-year rule. Nimeri's government was both resolutely pro-American and combatively anti-Ethiopian and hostile to Libya.
But there appears little likelihood that Sawar-Dhahab's Transitional Military Council will turn its back on the United States, which currently feeds one-fourth of the people in this famine-ridden republic.
Democracy, specifically "parliamentary democracy," is the objective about which Sawar-Dhahab talked the most.
At a press conference today, he was careful in his assurances that he sees his government as an interim regime, pointing to the evolution since the coup of detailed consultations between the trade unions and political parties -- whose agitation set the stage for Nimeri's overthrow -- and the military men who completed the coup.
Nimeri remains in Egypt and Sawar-Dhahab said there are no plans to seek his extradition.
Sawar-Dhahab, gray-haired and authoritative as he sat with the other officers of the Transitional Council in the general staff headquarters, welcomed reporters to "our country that has become a haven for democracy, I hope."
Some of the civilians participating in the talks to outline the form of a transition government and name a new Cabinet said today that an announcement is imminent.
Mergani Nasri, a lawyers' union leader who figures as the probable choice for prime minister, said the list of names for the Cabinet was finished last night. In an interview, he said he expected the civilians to be more effective now than 16 years ago because "we know the hardships of dictatorship, we have had enough experience with all its troubles and problems to convince us all that the only way is democracy."
The inability of the country's political forces to find effective ways of governing instead of bickering led to Nimeri's takeover in 1969.
Sawar-Dhahab outlined the steps his regime is taking to address a complex political crisis made disastrous by famine, refugees, corruption, a collapsing economy and erratic leadership under Nimeri.
The government here faces a powerful insurgency in the disaffected southern half of the country brought on by Nimeri's decision in 1983 to reduce that region's autonomy and apply Islamic law, the sharia, to its non-Moslems.
The leader of the insurgency is a U.S.-educated former colonel, John Garang, whose forces are able to operate out of Ethiopian sanctuaries with money and arms furnished by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
Sawar-Dhahab did not specifically say whether improved relations with Ethiopia, Libya and the Soviet Union are intended to undermine their support for Garang, but that is the reading of his initiative by many in the diplomatic community here.
Libyan broadcasts have been fiercely anti-Nimeri, but restrained in characterizing the new regime. The Soviets were reported by the official Sudanese News Agency to have hailed "the radical change" in Sudan since the armed forces "sided with the people."
But Sudan's dependence on U.S. aid, which is expected to exceed more than $300 million in economic assistance this year, and its close ties to Egypt, are seen as moderating forces.
Cairo regards Sudan as vital to its own security and continues to wield great influence here.
Sawar-Dhahab is closely linked to Egypt and his overtures toward Libya are viewed there with little alarm.
Regarding Islamic law, Sawar-Dhahab said it will remain in effect but subject to "certain revisions" to be determined by "the masses."