US removes Sudan from terrorism blacklist in return for $335m

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Compensation payment pledged for alleged role in bombing of two US embassies

Jason Burke and Oliver Holmes  –  The  Guardian

Mike Pompeo with Sudan’s Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the ruling sovereign council, in Khartoum in August. Photograph: AP

Washington has removed Sudan from a terrorism blacklist after the country agreed to pay $335m in compensation for its alleged role in the bombing of two US embassies in east Africa by al-Qaida in 1998.

Donald Trump tweeted the news of the deal on Monday. “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!” he wrote.

Sudan’s transitional government, which took power following the fall of the veteran dictator Omar al-Bashir last year, has in recent months been under increasing pressure from US officials to pay the compensation.

Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, discussed the lifting of sanctions with the Sudanese prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, during a visit to Khartoum in August.

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.”

“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 US has moved to incrementally restore relations with Sudan over recent years but has insisted that outstanding legal claims are settled before the country is struck from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. North Korea, Iran and Syria remain on the list.

US officials hope the move will encourage Sudan to establish official diplomatic relations with Israel. Trump, seeking to appeal to pro-Israel voters, has pushed other countries in the Arab world to normalise relations with the Jewish state. Last month the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain agreed to ties with Israel following US-mediated deals, despite protests from the Palestinian leadership.

The designation as a state sponsor of terrorism has denied Sudan access to desperately needed debt relief and foreign financing. Meanwhile, the country’s economy has been crippled by decades of Bashir’s misrule, continuing internal conflict, recent political upheaval and the Covid-19 pandemic. Millions of people are facing hardship as food and fuel prices have soared.

Sudanese officials have long said the listing as a state sponsor of terrorism, which dates back to 1993 when Bashir was accused of supporting militant groups, should be withdrawn as the country is now ruled by a new administration committed to reform.

However, the payment of compensation is likely to cause anger. Ministers, opposition leaders and ordinary people in the country have previously expressed dismay at the prospect of a multimillion-dollar payment to the US. Some have complained that it would be unfair to force Sudan to use public funds to pay for the misdeeds of a fallen dictator.

More than 224 people died and 4,000 were injured in the double bombing of embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 by al-Qaida, then run by Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan. Courts in the US found Sudan guilty of providing essential support to al-Qaida when Bin Laden was based in the country between 1991 and 1996.

Some have contested the basis for the compensation claim, saying Sudan sought to cooperate with the US by expelling Bin Laden. Hassan Abdulrahman, defence minister in Sudan at the time of Bin Laden’s stay, told the Guardian in August that Washington refused an offer to hand the extremist leader to them.

“The politicians suggested we send him to the Americans but [the Americans] rejected that … The Sudanese also said they were prepared to detain or otherwise restrain Bin Laden,” Abdulrahman said.

US officials in key counter-terrorism posts at the time have since denied that the Sudanese offer was serious. Bin Laden was eventually expelled by Khartoum and found a safe haven in eastern Afghanistan.

The proposed compensation deal follows an earlier payment of a smaller sum to victims of another al-Qaida attack, on a warship just offshore of Aden in Yemen in 2000.

Congress must still review the deal and analysts say significant obstacles to Sudan’s access to international and US aid still remain.

There has also been criticism of the likely distribution of the compensation between victims, with significant differences between the sums received by US citizens and others.

Resistance in Sudan to normalisation of ties with Israel is also likely to be significant. Hamdok said last month that he had told Pompeo he would not link his country’s removal from the list with normalisation of relations with Israel. “This topic [ties to Israel] needs a deep discussion of the society,” he said.

However, there has been signs of thawing relations between the two countries, which are officially enemies. Sudan’s military head, Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who is the most senior figure under the country’s power-sharing arrangement, held an unannounced meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Uganda earlier this year. While Burhan denied there had been a change in relations with Israel, Netanyahu later said the two governments were “establishing cooperative relations”, and Sudan has agreed to allow flights to Israel to overfly its territory.

 

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