Bashir has made clear his intent to take a strongly pan-Arabist approach to foreign relations, voicing his desire to make Sudan a model Islamic state in the region. Shortly after coming to power, Bashir approached many Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Iraq, seeking assistance in the form of money, medical supplies, oil, and weapons. Capitalizing on his self-proclaimed solidarity with the Arab world, Bashir personally visited Iraq, announcing soon afterwards that President Saddam Hussein had promised to meet Sudan's requirements for aid and weapons.
During Bashir's period in power, Sudan has acquired an international reputation for political repression, human rights abuses, and support of terrorism. In the early and mid-1990s, notorious international figures—Carlos the Jackal, Osama bin Laden, Abu Nidal, and other terrorist leaders—resided in Khartoum. The United States added Sudan to its list of countries spawning international terrorism in August 1993. In October 1997, the United States imposed comprehensive economic, trade, and financial sanctions against the Sudan. Following the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania—allegedly carried out by the al-Qaeda organization—the United States launched cruise missile attacks against the El Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, claiming it was a chemical weapons factory with ties to Osama bin Laden. Despite these rocky relations, however, the United States and Sudan were able to enter into a bilateral dialogue on counterterrorism in May 2000. Following the 11 September 2001 terrorism strikes on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and the World Trade Center in New York, Bashir's government publicly committed full support for theU.S.-initiated international effort for the War on Terror, though the government did criticize the immediate U.S. strikes in Afghanistan against the al Qaeda and the Taliban regime. In a report submitted to the UN Security Council, Sudan asked for international assistance in reviewing laws that would strengthen border controls against terrorists, improve efforts to freeze financial assets of suspected terrorists and develop programs for chemical and biological weapons that could be used by terrorists.
The United States and other donors continue to provide large amounts of humanitarian aid to all parts of the Sudan. A UN-sponsored program, Operation Lifeline Sudan (1989–90) moved some 100,000 tons of food into both government and SPLA-held areas of the Sudan, and widespread starvation was averted. A similar program was initiated in 2000–01 as the United States and the international community again responded to drought situations in Sudan. In April 2003, theU.S. government announced it would not impose economic sanctions against Sudan because it had taken steps to end the conflict in the south through the Mashakos peace negotiations.
In May 2003, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak visited Sudan, the first such state visit in more than 12 years. Bashir indicated efforts at integration between the two countries, including in the areas of trade and agriculture, would be highly beneficial. Some see such efforts as the first steps leading to the establishment of an Arab Common Market.
The United States, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have supplied most of Sudan's economic assistance. Sudan's role as an economic link between Arab and African countries is reflected by the presence in Khartoum of the Arab Bank for African Development. The World Bank had been the largest source of development loans. Consequently, Sudan has become the world's largest debtor to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).