Sudan’s prime minister has said he discussed the possibility of Washington removing his country from the list of state sponsors of terrorism during a historic visit to Khartoum on Tuesday August 26, 2020 by Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state.
Sudan, which overthrew the 30-year dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir last year, has been urging Washington to remove it from the list, which could open the way for investment in its battered economy.
Mr Bashir was ousted last year after months of street protests triggered by a rise in food and fuel prices, but the new government has struggled to stabilize the badly indebted economy. Without US backing, Sudan is unable to write off $60bn in past debts or access new multilateral lending.
“We had a direct & transparent conversation regarding delisting Sudan,” Abdalla Hamdok, the prime minister, tweeted after the meeting.
“The democratic transition under way is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the people of Sudan,” Mr Pompeo said.
Mr Pompeo flew directly from Israel to Sudan on Tuesday, raising the possibility that Khartoum could be persuaded to recognise Israel in return for a breakthrough in relations with the US. But news agencies quoted a spokesperson for the prime minister as saying that the transitional government “does not have the mandate” to normalise relations with Israel.
The US has sought to tie improved relations with Sudan to concessions including the payment of compensation to victims of alleged Sudanese-sponsored terrorism and recognition of Israel, as well as backing for Washington’s position on a dam being built on the Nile by Ethiopia.
Washington helped broker a deal, announced this month, in which the United Arab Emirates recognized Israel, only the third Arab state to establish full diplomatic ties after Egypt and Jordan. President Donald Trump, who has hinted that other Arab nations may follow UAE’s lead, is hoping to polish his credentials as a dealmaker in the Middle East in the run-up to US elections in November.
In Khartoum, Mr Pompeo and Mr Hamdok discussed “positive developments in the Sudan-Israel relationship”, according to a US state department spokesperson. Although the US had hoped Sudan would recognize Israel, “Hamdok and others are a little hesitant”, said one person in contact with US and Sudanese officials.
In February, Gen Abdel Fattah Burhan, the military head of Sudan’s hybrid military-civilian transitional government, met Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, during a secret trip to Uganda in what was seen as a move towards normalization of ties. However, last week, a Sudanese spokesman who said Khartoum was looking forward to making a peace deal with Israel was abruptly fired.
“Sudan has been pretty isolated for a long time. It is very keen to get off this [terror] list. This is the carrot,” said Jonas Horner, a Sudan specialist at Crisis Group. “Sudan is desperate to be normalised as a member of the community of nations, though it is not clear it can do this politically,” he said, referring to recognition of Israel.
Washington has told Khartoum it will not remove it from the terrorist list, a move that requires notification to Congress, until Sudan pays compensation of $300m to families of victims in 1998 explosions outside US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, according to one person familiar with talks.
In April, Sudan agreed to pay victims of the families of 17 US sailors killed on the USS Cole in a 2000 attack in Aden. In May, Sudan appointed its first ambassador to Washington in more than 20 years in a further sign of thawing relations.
The US has resisted removing Sudan from its terror list partly through concern over the role in the transitional government of Lt Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemeti, widely regarded as the most powerful member of the sovereign council. Lt Gen Hamdan, who once ran the notorious Janjaweed horseback militia, which carried out atrocities in Darfur in western Sudan, helped lead last year’s coup against Mr Bashir.
Maintaining Khartoum on the terror list provided Washington with “leverage” to keep its democratic transition on track, in case “Hemeti tosses Hamdok into the Nile”, said one western official familiar with US-Sudan relations. The transitional council has promised free elections in 2022.
Hamdok urged the US not to link “the subject of lifting Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list and the subject of normalisation with Israel,” as Pompeo was also scheduled to discuss the removal of Sudan from the list.
The US designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993, cutting it off from financial markets and strangling its economy over allegations that al-Bashir’s government was supporting “terrorism”.
The designation makes the country ineligible for much-needed debt relief and funding from international institutions, and limits potential foreign investment.
Washington lifted a 20-year trade embargo against Sudan in 2017 and was holding discussions on de-listing Khartoum when the military stepped in on April 11 to depose al-Bashir, who ruled for 30 years. Subsequently, the administration of US President Donald Trump suspended talks demanding the military hand power to a civilian government. The country has been listed since the 1990s when al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden lived there, as a guest of ex-President Omar al Bashir’s government.
Mr Pompeo was in Sudan mainly to promote closer ties between Israel and Arab countries on his regional tour to Israel, Sudan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
But Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that his government had no mandate to normalize ties with Israel, and that any such move would be decided after the transitional period, according to a spokesman.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s bid to persuade Sudan to recognize Israel appeared to be rebuffed in a setback to the administration’s efforts to expand the United Arab Emirates-Israel peace deal to other Arab nations.
During Tuesday’s talks in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, Hamdok “clarified” to Pompeo that the country’s transitional period “is being led by a wide alliance with a specific agenda – to complete the transition, achieve peace and stability in the country and hold free elections” government spokesman Faisal Saleh said in a statement.
It “does not have a mandate beyond these tasks or to decide on normalisation with Israel,” Hamdok was quoted as saying.
In a statement on Twitter Mr Pompeo said that he discussed “Sudan’s commitment to deepening the Sudan-Israel relationship” with the prime minister.
But the current transitional government in Sudan “does not have a mandate… to decide on normalisation with Israel”, spokesperson Faisal Saleh is quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.
In February Mr Netanyahu met with the head of Sudan’s sovereign council Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Uganda, after which Israel said the two countries had agreed to move towards forging normal relations.
However, Sudan’s foreign ministry sacked its spokesman last week after he praised the UAE’s peace treaty as “a brave and bold step”.
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