Trump announces plans to remove Sudan from state sponsors of terrorism list
Posted October 19, 2020 4:42 p.m. EDT
CNN — President Donald Trump announced Monday that he intends to lift Sudan's state sponsor of terrorism designation -- news that comes as the transitional government in Khartoum could deliver him a diplomatic victory ahead of the US presidential election.
The US President said on Twitter that once the $335 million that Sudan has agreed to pay as part of a settlement for victims of twin bombings against the US Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, he will lift the designation.
"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 tweeted.
Behind the scenes, the Trump administration has been pushing for the transitional government in Sudan, led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, to normalize relations with Israel. Such a move would present a foreign policy win to Trump just weeks ahead of the election.
The President's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and a team of international negotiators from the White House and State Department had taken the lead on brokering these deals between Israel and a number of countries, including Sudan, Oman and Morocco, according to people familiar with the discussions, and their efforts have thus far yielded two successful deals -- with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
During a visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Khartoum in late August, the two discussed the rescission of the terrorism designation, but Hamdok appeared to rebuff the potential of normalizing relations with Israel, saying the transitional government did not have the authority to pursue such a change.
Senior government sources in Sudan told CNN that the designation change was a requirement by Hamdok before talks on normalization could proceed.
"Prime Minister Hamdok was insistent during negotiations with the US that the removal from the list not be linked to normalization as Sudan has met all the criteria for its removal. Now that the designation has been changed discussions can begin afresh on normalization. The designation change was our priority and normalization is theirs," one source said.
Sudan has been listed as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1993, and it is one of only four nations total designated as such. Iran, North Korea and Syria are also listed. As a result, Sudan faces a series of restrictions including a ban on defense exports and sales and restrictions on US foreign assistance.
Sudan's strongman leader, Omar al-Bashir, was ousted in a military coup in April 2019 after three decades in power.
With the nation under a transitional government, Pompeo has voiced support for delisting Sudan with certain prerequisites.
"This is an opportunity that doesn't come along often. We all know the history of Sudan and the tragedy there," Pompeo said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in late July. "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."
The State Department declined to comment on Trump's announcement Monday, although the top US diplomat in Khartoum congratulated the Sudanese government and its people on the news.
"This will be a critical step in advancing the U.S.-Sudan relationship and we hope will open the way for new engagement by the international community," charge d'affaires Brian Shukan wrote Monday on Twitter.
More than 200 people were killed and thousands were injured in 1998 when twin al Qaeda bombings rocked the US Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Sudan, under the leadership of al-Bashir, sheltered Osama bin Laden and was found to have assisted the al Qaeda operatives. The US and Sudan reached a settlement in which the latter would pay $335 million to compensate survivors and victims' families.
Edith Bartley, spokesperson for the families of Americans who were killed in the embassy bombings, said in a statement Monday that they welcomed the announcement.
"On behalf of the families killed in the 1998 bombing of the Nairobi embassy, I wish to express our appreciation for the long hard work of the State Department, and the new civilian regime in Sudan, to secure Sudan's payment of compensation to our diplomatic families for that act of terror," said Bartley, who herself lost her father and brother in the attack in Nairobi.
"The escrow fund established by that agreement, once it is released to the victims, will fulfill a longstanding commitment first made by President Bush, honored by President Obama, and now affirmed by President Trump, to condition normalization on compensating survivors and the families of those who were lost to acts of terror. In so doing, we vindicate the sacrifice of our diplomats abroad," she said.