During his first visit to Egypt since seizing power in April, Gen. Abdel Rahman Swar-Dahab of Sudan has played down potentially divisive issues and emphasized once again the importance of close cooperation with his northern neighbor.
The visit, which ended yesterday, was a culmination of high-level exchanges between Egypt and Sudan that appear to mark a change of emphasis in Sudan's foreign policy.
According to officials involved in the three days of talks, the Sudanese demand to extradite overthrown president Jaafar Nimeri from his refuge in Egypt was not discussed.
Sudan's recent military pact with Libya -- Egypt's archenemy in the region -- was played down by both Sudanese officials and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who described it as "Sudan's own affair."
Faced with staggering problems of mass starvation, a guerrilla war in the south and the fragile, highly fragmented political atmosphere in the wake of Nimeri's overthrow, Sudan's military rulers have been at the center of competing international and domestic pressures.
Swar-Dahab has attempted to balance domestic forces, including Communists, Islamic fundamentalists and a strong rebel movement in the Christian and animist south, while trying to minimize tensions with neighboring states. Egypt, Libya and Ethiopia all have competing interests in Sudan, and different ideas for its future.
Many political voices, silenced under Nimeri's tight rein, identify the deposed ruler with Egypt, where he has been granted political asylum. Some of these same voices had once found asylum in and support from Libya.
"Because there were no such voices before, it sounded very strange at first," said Izzat Abdel-Latif, director of the Institute for Diplomatic Studies here. "But it's only a sign of greater democracy, and we have to accept that."
Abdel-Latif added that these voices "never constituted the mainstream of the body politic" in Sudan.
But Egypt's refusal to turn over Nimeri for trial in Sudan resulted during the summer in anti-Egyptian demonstrations in Khartoum -- instigated by Libya, officials charge. The military pact was another reason for concern in Cairo that Libya was gaining a foothold in Sudan.
According to Sudan's defense minister, Gen. Osman Abdullah Mohammed, who visited Egypt earlier this month, Libya has provided Sudan with small arms, as well as spare parts for Soviet-built MiG21 fighter planes, radar installations, and T55 tanks.
But Mohammed added that improved relations with Libya "will never be against our principles nor against the interests of Egypt."