WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is preparing to remove Sudan from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, seeking another foreign policy victory ahead of the election, but jeopardizing the compensation for victims of terrorist attacks that US courts have signed. .
Sudan has been on the list of terrorism since 1993, and as a result has been barred from receiving global aid that would help stabilize its new government and fuel democracy. His delicacy is widely expected in the next few weeks, according to four people with direct knowledge of the plan from the State Department.
A full diplomatic agreement between Israel and Sudan would be difficult, if not impossible, as long as Sudan remains on the list of American terrorism.
But the administration intends to continue without congressional legislation to provide immediate compensation for victims of bombings against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and destroyer Cole in 2000, and their families who expected to receive a $ 335 million deal from Sudan to shelter fighters who carried out the attacks.
“This allows Sudan to leave the list without penalty,” said Reese Khalik, a former Commerce official who was injured in an attack on the US embassy in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.
“There will be no reason for Sudan to cure the victims in any way,” Mr Khalik said on Wednesday. “They achieved what they wanted, and frankly, the victims affected by the terrorist list remained tall and dry.”
“It’s really painful and excruciating,” he added.
TThe new plan will put the money in an escrow account that will be released to the victims after Congress grants Sudan immunity from future legal claims for past terrorist attacks. But Congress has refused to include redress in the bill, which was agreed this week, but has certainly delayed payment – if at all – until after the Nov. 3 election.
Officials warned that the final decision to remove Sudan from the list of terrorism must be approved by the White House.
But President Trump is not expected to wait for Congress to act.
Six weeks before the election, Mr Trump cited warming ties between once-rival countries in the Middle East and North Africa as an example of his administration’s diplomatic prowess. Five additional countries are considering formal relations with Israel, the president said on September 15, and officials said they include Sudan.
“We will sign other countries,” Trump said at the White House last week, shortly before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, with the Sudanese deputy ambassador to the audience. “And these are very strong agreements. They are very strong. This is truly peace. This is a serious peace. “
Cementing diplomacy between Israel and Sudan would be a coup for the administration, given their turbulent history.
It was in Khartoum after the Arab-Israeli war in 1967 that the Arab League announced its “three no” resolution, which opposed peace, negotiations and recognition of Israel. This was widely recognized among Arab states until Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat made a historic trip to Jerusalem in 1977. Until last week’s agreements, Egypt and Jordan were the only two Arab states with official diplomatic relations with Israel.
Sudan is on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism after officials concluded in 1993 that the government of its then-leader, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, was providing asylum and other support to Hezbollah and Palestinian groups. Only three other countries – Iran, North Korea and Syria – are on the State Department’s list, which limits aid from the United States and, in practice, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
But in 2016, after Sudan severed diplomatic ties with Iran, the United States began easing sanctions against Khartoum to reward cooperation in counter-terrorism missions and ending military attacks on Sudanese nationals. The solution was fueled last year by the ouster of Mr al-Bashir and international efforts to support democracy in the new transitional government.
Israel has developed its own nascent ties with the country. In February, Mr Netanyahu met with Sudan’s de facto leader, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, for talks in Uganda, reportedly organized by the United Arab Emirates. Days later, Sudan began allowing Israeli commercial aircraft to fly in its airspace.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has the power to remove Sudan from the list of terrorism without the approval of Congress. At a meeting in Khartoum last month with Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok, Mr Pompeo described the abolition of Sudan as a “critical bilateral priority for both sides”.
The two men also “discussed positive developments in relations between Sudan and Israel,” the State Department said in a summary of the meeting. They spoke again on September 12.
Sudan’s lawyer in Washington, Christopher Quran, said the transitional government wanted “to fully join the community of respected nations.” In a statement Wednesday, he said this would happen if Sudan entered international trade, settling past obligations and “the impending cessation of state sponsorship of terrorism”.
Until recently, Mr Pompeo indicated that he would wait to remove Sudan from the list of terrorism while paying for the victims of the attacks.
But with the settlement of the US-Sudan agreement in Congress, officials said Mr Pompeo was ready to move forward.
Sudan has insisted it will hold $ 335 million in compensation for victims until it receives legal immunity from Congress to protect itself from new financial claims over past terrorist attacks. But Sudan is unlikely to hold the money indefinitely, according to a government official for the country, given growing poverty, a rapidly weakening economy and a $ 60 billion international debt.
The instability of a long-running process to strengthen Sudan’s stability and compensate for the victims of terrorism has alerted a bipartisan group of senators, who noted in a September 14 letter a “rare opportunity” for the United States to help the country “move away from a decades-long regime.” they supported terrorism and stifled freedom. “
But Congress is divided over the administration’s approach.
Some lawmakers have objected to the unequal distribution of payments for victims of bombings at East African embassies, which would have awarded Americans much more than Kenyan and Tanzanian officials – almost all of them black – who were foreign nationals at the time of the attacks.
In addition, the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks are seeking compensation, as Sudan has been a long-term refuge for al Qaeda. Supported by lawmakers representing the region, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat and minority leader, these families widely objected to immunity legislation before their own lawsuits against Sudan were resolved.
“Congress should not deny the victims’ families a day in court on September 11,” said Alex Nguyen, a spokesman for Mr Schumer.
Congressional officials say a last-minute deal is possible – including one that would soften some of the victims’ families on Sept. 11, prompting them to receive $ 1 billion in additional payments from a separate Department of Justice victim fund. .
But it would be difficult to approve this before the election, and some of these families have questioned why the United States will rush to remove Sudan from the list of terrorism and drop its leverage.
“Foreign governments that have supported and detained terrorists should not receive a free pass from any administration, Congress or the global community,” said Lori Van Auken, Mindy Kleinberg and Kristen Breitweiser, whose husbands were killed in the 9/11 attacks. in a statement. “They must be held accountable for their actions.”
There is also some opposition in Sudan to form an alliance with Israel, especially among liberal officials in the transitional government who have been defending Palestinian demands for a sovereign state for years.
During last month’s meeting in Khartoum, Mr Hamdock told Mr Pompeo that Sudan’s transitional government had no mandate to normalize relations with Israel and instead focused on stabilizing the country ahead of the 2022 democratic elections.
But senior Sudanese officials have recently been reluctant to acknowledge that agreeing to normalize relations with Israel could be the price of being removed from the list of US terrorism, according to people in Washington and Khartoum who are familiar with the discussions.
“We need to ask ourselves whether Sudanese are really interested in relations with Israel, given that the opposition is likely to move to Khartoum and be more interested in the side effects of being off the state sponsor of terrorism,” said Stephen A. Cook, Middle East and North Africa expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“Obviously that drives them, and they clearly know the best and easiest way through Tel Aviv,” Mr Cook said.
Declan Walsh contributed reports from Cairo.