President Trump has announced that after consulting with the transitional government in Khartoum, the United States will drop the “state sponsor of terrorism” designation against the country of Sudan. In return, the government of Sudan agrees to pay the victims of earlier terrorist bombings of Tanzania and Kenyan embassies a total of $335 million dollars.
In 1998, more than 225 people were killed and over 4,000 injured when al-Qaeda and Osama bin-Laden bombed the embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. At the time, bin-Laden was staying in Afghanistan, yet, he had lived in Sudan from 1991 to 1996.
This latest diplomatic victory for the U.S. administration is considered another feather in President Trump’s cap before the upcoming presidential election.
As is the president’s M.O. he took to Twitter to announce the news:
“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!” President Trump wrote.
The news comes after August’s meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in Khartoum where the pair discussed lifting the sanctions and agreed to a settlement for the victims.
Hamdok also took to Twitter and welcomed the news. “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.”
“This Tweet and that notification are the strongest support to Sudan’s transition to democracy and to the Sudanese people… As we’re about to get rid of the heaviest legacy of Sudan’s previous, defunct regime, I should reiterate that we are peace-loving people and have never supported terrorism.”
The lifting of the designation will clear the way for Sudan to get foreign financing. This will be a start for servicing the crippling debt that the nation is under. Additionally, the former regime of Omar al-Bashir was rife with corruption, internal strife and now the COVID-19 pandemic has made matters worse. Food and fuel prices are soaring and much of the population requires assistance.
Behind the scenes, the Trump administration is pushing Khartoum to normalize relations and make peace with Israel. That is likely to be a much tougher sell to the Sudanese people than it was either to U.A.E. or Bahrain. The regime of Bashir was constantly sounding anti-Jewish rhetoric to the people of Sudan and Hamdok was quick to point out the lifting of the designation can’t be tied to the normalization of relations with Israel. “This topic needs a deep discussion of the society,” he said.
However, the signs are pointing out that such normalization is already taking place. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the Sudanese military and arguably the most powerful member of the new government had an impromptu meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda earlier this year. While the two sides officially remain enemies, Burhan agreed to allow Israeli overflights over Sundanese airspace.
Yet those meetings triggered protests in Sudan. Since the Sudanese people have been steadily fed the notion that Israel is their enemy it will be hard to reverse popular sentiment.
After the Six-Day War in 1967, Khartoum had hosted the Arab conference where the “Three No’s” were pounded into the table. No to Israeli recognition, No to negotiation with Israel, and No to peace with the Israelis.
When in 2013, Bashir had announced that he would never normalize relations with their “Zionist enemy,” protests had once again broken out.
Hamdok is walking a tightrope. He fears, and rightly so, that any normalized relations with Tel Aviv will result in a backlash by Islamic jihadists who already have a presence in the country.
Pompeo had been voicing his support for the Sudan deal all summer. In July he had said the following at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing:
“This is an opportunity that doesn’t come along often. We all know the history of Sudan and the tragedy there. There’s a chance not only for a democracy to begun to be built out but perhaps regional opportunities that could flow from that as well. I think lifting the state sponsor of terrorism designation there if we can take care of the victims of those tragedies, would be a good thing for American foreign policy.”
Congress will still have to review the agreement. Only four countries are currently on the “state sponsor of terrorism” list; Sudan, Iran, North Korea, and Syria.