Mike Pompeo e Abdel-Fattah Burhan, Sudan (La Presse)

Why is Sudan Being Removed from the US Terrorist List?

On Monday, October 20, US President Donald Trump announced in a tweet that Sudan was finally to be removed from the US state sponsor of terrorism list. The long-awaited decision came only after the Sudanese government agreed to pay a sum of $335 million to victims and families of two 1998 bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and an attack on an American Navy destroyer in Yemen in 2000.

Trump: Sudan’s New Government is ‘Making Great Progress’

“New Government of Sudan, which is making great progress, agreed to pay $335 MILLION to U.S. terror victims and families,” Trump said in the tweet. “Once deposited, I will lift Sudan from State Sponsor of Terrorism list.”

Al Qaeda claimed all the attacks to which Sudan’s former regime, led by the fallen dictator Omar al-Bashir, was accused of providing support.

However, the country was added to the list in 1993, prior to the bombings, joining Syria, Iran and North Korea. It was accused of providing support to militant groups, including Al Qaeda, as well as hosting Osama Bin Laden, who stayed in the country from 1991 to 1996 before being expelled.

In August, a former defense minister of Sudan during the time of Bin Laden’s stay, said the United States had refused an offer from Sudan to hand over Bin Laden.

Economic Consequences of Being on the List

Sudan’s inclusion in the list had been disputed since last year, at least, when the former president al-Bashir was toppled in a coup. Many Sudanese have argued that Al-Bashir and his regime, which had ruled the country for 30 years, are the ones to be held accountable, not the new government.

Having its name included in the four-country list, Sudan saw its economy deteriorate over the years, as its designation as terrorism sponsor led to a number of restrictions in foreign assistance, exports and sales, as well as in financial transactions, pushing away foreign investments and commercial banks.

The United States resumed talks of removal from the list as soon as the new government was appointed in Sudan.

“The Sudanese reminded me that they would love to get off that list and we always measure twice and cut once before we remove someone from a list like that,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in February 2020.

The United States even offered $80 million in humanitarian aid earlier this year, to help the country fight against the pandemic. Yet Sudan had turned down the offer, mainly because the Trump Administration highlighted the prerequisite of normalizing ties with Israel.

Further pressure was then exerted on Sudan last summer and the country’s interim government grew more lenient.

Why Now?

This year’s pandemic has made it even worse for the African country’s economy, as nearly half of the Sudanese population live in poverty. Last month alone, Sudan’s annual inflation rose to 212%.

Some even dispute Sudan’s ability to pay such a big sum of money, but the reopening of the country and its normalization of relations with other countries proved urgent. Moreover, the timing of such a move falls perfectly in line with President Trump’s “peace” efforts in the Middle East, engaging Arab countries with Israel, as he campaigns for his re-election in the upcoming US presidential vote next month.

Until last month, Egypt and Jordan were the only Arab countries with formal diplomatic relations with Israel. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain then followed, after signing diplomatic deals with Israel in September.

Now, Sudan is unquestionably seen as the next country to normalize its ties with Israel, while it aspires to be removed from the state sponsors of terrorism list.

The Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and other officials had long objected to the idea, even as recently as last month. But Israel have already worked with Sudan — although quietly, like it did with the United Arab Emirates — over the past year.

In February, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu met with Sudan’s de facto leader, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Uganda in talks arranged by the Emiratis. Days later, Sudan allowed Israeli commercial flights in its airspace.