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But Sudan has forged an enduring alliance with Iran based on a shared Islamist ideology, said Mr. Natsios, an executive professor at the George H.W. Bush School of Government at Texas A&M University.

The U.S. administration is uneasy about the relationship.

“[Sudan has] cooperation with the government of Iran in areas that are benign and areas that concern us,” the former U.S. official said.

In the early 1990s, Sudan served as a base for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other Islamic terrorist groups.

In 1993, the United States designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism and imposed crippling sanctions.

President Obama on Thursday extended by a year a national emergency with respect to Sudan, which was first declared by the Clinton administration in 1997. The “actions and policies of the government of Sudan continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” Mr. Obama said.

International sanctions on Gen. Bashir’s regime have isolated Sudan and forced it to deal with rogue states, the former U.S. official said.

“In many ways, by isolating the government of Khartoum, we have pushed them into dealings with the Iranians because they are not able to transact business in normal markets, especially for defense-sector-related activities,” he said.

Bin Laden connection

Osama bin Laden arrived in Sudan at the invitation of Sudanese Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi. The al Qaeda leader cemented the alliance by marrying Mr. al-Turabi’s niece.

“Hassan al-Turabi is revered among the ayatollahs [of Iran],” Mr. Natsios said. “They signed a secret agreement between the intelligence services of both countries to cooperate, there are Iranian munition factories around Khartoum, and they signed a treaty many years ago to allow unlimited access of the Iranian navy to Port Sudan.”

The terms of the defense agreement between Sudan and Iran are “quite opaque,” said Jonah Leff, project coordinator for the Small Arms Survey’s Sudan/South Sudan Project.

Small Arms Survey, an independent research project at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, has documented Iranian weapons used by Sudan’s military in the southern border state of South Kordofan and in Darfur. These have included small-arms ammunition, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, mortar bombs and two drones.

Iran has provided support to Sudan’s weapons manufacturing sector, including training and technological support,” Mr. Leff said.

Part of this training is provided by Iran’s notorious Quds Force, a special military unit tasked with exporting the Iranian revolution.

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