image Photo: Reuters

US to declassify Sudan as terror sponsor

U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intention to remove Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism once it has compensated American victims of militant attacks and their families.

“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!”

“Thank you so much, President Trump!” Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok responded, also on Twitter, stressing that, “we very much look forward to your official notification to Congress rescinding the designation of Sudan as a state-sponsor of terrorism.”

Sudan was added to the notorious registry based on U.S. allegations of involvement in al Qaeda attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Sudan was at that time led by Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted from power in a coup d’etat last year. Since that time, Washington and Khartoum have cooperated on counterterrorism efforts.

While Trump can unilaterally remove Sudan from the blacklist, congressional legislation is needed to ensure the flow of payments to embassy bombing victims and their relatives, and immediate action on Capitol Hill is uncertain. The Trump administration, which is also expected to offer economic aid, must now formally notify the U.S. House of Representatives of its intent.

Once the $335 million has been paid, Congress will also have to pass legislation to restore Sudan’s sovereign immunity against future claims for any other previous attacks; a legal shield Sudan was stripped of due to the terrorism designation.

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez represented concerns of many of his colleagues in a 15 October letter sent to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling for “corrective action” to ensure that no deal with Khartoum will make it more difficult for victims of al Qaeda’s 11 September 2001 terror attacks to sue for damages. Sudan has been accused of providing to al Qaeda leaders with safe haven.

No mention was made of Israel in Trump’s tweet of the breakthrough with Sudan, even though his administration had been pushing Khartoum to normalize ties with the Jewish State as part of a wider agreement.

Sudanese Prime Minister Hamdok, who runs the country together with the military in a transition government since Bashir was toppled, has insisted that the terrorism delisting not be linked with Israel.

Analysts say it is possible that removal from the terrorism list will now incentivize Sudan to agree on opening ties with Israel. Reuters cited a U.S. official as suggesting that such an announcement may be forthcoming “possibly in coming days.”

When asked whether an Israel-Sudan breakthrough was imminent, Israeli Finance Minister Israel Katz told Israel’s Army Radio that, “I hope that the intensive contacts will yield positive fruit.”