Normalization With Israel Could Be in Works After Sudan Removed From US Terror Blacklist
President Donald Trump announced on Monday the United States would remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism as soon as Khartoum sets aside $335 million for payments for American victims and their families.
The deal could also set in motion steps by Sudan toward establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, an American official told Reuters, following similar US-brokered moves in recent weeks by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The details and timing were still being worked out, the source said.
Though Trump made no mention of Israel in his tweet announcing the breakthrough with Sudan, rapprochement between Israel and another Arab country would give Trump a new diplomatic achievement as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3.
Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism dates to its toppled ruler Omar al-Bashir and makes it difficult for its transitional government to access urgently-needed debt relief and foreign financing.
Many in Sudan say the designation, imposed in 1993 because the United States believed Bashir’s government was supporting militant groups, is now undeserved since Bashir was removed last year and Sudan has long cooperated with the United States on counter-terrorism.
US-Sudanese negotiations have focused on funds that Washington wants Khartoum to deposit in escrow for victims of al-Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, U.S. government sources said.
“GREAT news! New government of Sudan, which is making great progress, agreed to pay $335 MILLION to U.S. terror victims and families,” Trump tweeted. “Once deposited, I will lift Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. At long last, JUSTICE for the American people and BIG step for Sudan!”
GREAT news! New government of Sudan, which is making great progress, agreed to pay $335 MILLION to U.S. terror victims and families. Once deposited, I will lift Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. At long last, JUSTICE for the American people and BIG step for Sudan!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 19, 2020
A Sudanese government source said Khartoum was ready to pay compensation to US embassy bombing victims.
Just minutes after Trump’s statement, Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok tweeted: “Thank you so much, President Trump! We very much look forward to your official notification to Congress rescinding the designation of Sudan as a state-sponsor of terrorism, which has cost Sudan too much.”
Thank you so much, President Trump! We very much look forward to your official notification to Congress rescinding the designation of Sudan as a state-sponsor of terrorism, which has cost Sudan too much. https://t.co/GeScTPfb0k
— Abdalla Hamdok (@SudanPMHamdok) October 19, 2020
A key sticking point in the negotiations was Sudan’s insistence that any announcement of Khartoum’s de-listing not be explicitly linked to normalization with Israel. Differences remain between Sudanese political and military officials on how far and how fast to go in warming of relations with Israel.
Hamdok told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Khartoum in August the normalization issue should not be linked to Sudan’s removal from the terrorism list.
One possibility, one US official said, would be for Washington to first announce plans for Sudan’s delisting and then leave it to Sudan and Israel to go public later with an agreement on establishing relations.
The UAE and fellow Gulf state Bahrain in September became the first Arab states in a quarter of a century to sign agreements to have formal ties with Israel, forged largely through shared fears of Iran.
Asked whether an Israel-Sudan breakthrough was imminent, Israeli Finance Minister Yisrael Katz told Army Radio on Monday, “There are contacts, accompanied by the Americans, and there is complexity. I hope that the intensive contacts will yield positive fruit.”
The Trump administration, which is also expected to offer economic aid, must now notify the US Congress of its intent to take Sudan off the terrorism list.
A remaining obstacle is Congress must pass legislation restoring Sudan’s sovereign immunity, a shield against future terrorism-related legal claims for past attacks once it pays the compensation it already owes. Sudan had lost that protection because of the terrorism designation.