Trump says Sudan will normalize relations with Israel, days after he moved to lift terrorism designation

Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY
·5 min read

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump announced Friday that Sudan has agreed to begin normalizing relations with Israel, just days after his administration said it would take the North African country off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The details of the Sudan-Israel agreement, coming just days before the Nov. 3 election, were not immediately clear. Trump announced the news as he spoke with the leaders of Sudan and Israel on speaker phone in front of reporters, who had been called into the Oval Office.

"The state of Israel and the Republic of Sudan have agreed to make peace," Trump told reporters.

A statement from the White House was less sweeping in its description of the deal.

"The leaders agreed to the normalization of relations between Sudan and Israel and to end the state of belligerence between their nations," the statement read.

It comes days after Trump announced he would take Sudan off the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism – a pivotal move that will help end Sudan's financial isolation and bolster its transition from dictatorship to democracy.

The White House agreed to lift that designation after Sudan's government agreed to pay more than $300 million dollars to American victims of the 2000 USS Cole attack and the 1998 embassy bombings, both of which were linked to al-Qaida, the militant group founded by Osama bin Laden.

"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 on Monday. "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!"

Sudan's prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, said taking Sudan off the terror list would lift "the heaviest legacy" of Sudan's old regime.

"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," Hamdok tweeted in response to Trump's post earlier this week. The US shift is "the strongest support to Sudan’s transition to democracy and to the Sudanese people," he said.

Removing Sudan from the terrorism sponsor list will not occur immediately, as there are additional steps the State Department must take. Congress also needs to proactively restore Sudan's sovereign immunity, which would protect Sudan from future lawsuits.

The U.S. terrorism designation has blocked Sudan from fully participating in the global economy, restricting the country's ability to get debt relief and investment from international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The African country is reeling, with the Sudanese people facing bread and fuel lines amid spiraling inflation.

The Trump administration said under the new agreement, the U.S. would also work with Sudan to help ease its debt burden and become a part of the broader international community.

"The Sudanese transitional government has demonstrated its courage and commitment to combating terrorism, building its democratic institutions, and improving its relations with its neighbors," Friday's White House statement said.

"In light of this historic progress ... the United States and Israel agreed to partner with Sudan in its new start and ensure that it is fully integrated into the international community," the White House said. "The United States will take steps to restore Sudan’s sovereign immunity and to engage its international partners to reduce Sudan’s debt burdens."

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Sudanese officials said the U.S. policy change will lift a financial and political albatross, but cautioned it would not be a panacea.

“The Sudanese economy will not feel a fundamental change tomorrow morning,” Acting Finance Minister Hiba Mohamed Ali said at a news conference Tuesday, according to Reuters. “But there will be some rapid improvements, including moral and psychological.”

As part of the terrorism de-listing, the Trump administration pressed Sudan to agree to normalize relations with Israel, in addition to settling the terror claims from U.S. victims.

It is part of a broader effort to get Muslim countries to recognize Israel; Trump has also helped secure agreements from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to establish diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. Trump has hailed the UAE and Bahrain deals as a major foreign policy victory and a move toward greater peace in the Middle East.

"Now multiple Arab countries across two continents have made peace with Israel," Trump said Friday.

But the push for Sudan to ink its own deal with Israel comes at a delicate time for the African country. Sudan's new government is working to make democratic reforms after Sudanese protesters took to the streets last year and ousted then-President Omar al-Bashir, whose brutal regime had ruled the country for three decades.

Cameron Hudson, a Sudan expert who served in both the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations, said the Trump administration was trying to get "something for nothing" by pressuring Sudan to normalize ties with Israel.

The State Department had already made a commitment to take Sudan off the terrorism list, and Pompeo made a "last minute bid" to squeeze more from Sudan, he said.

US President Donald Trump speaks to the leaders of Sudan and Israel as he announces that Sudan will normalize relations with Israel at the White House in Washington, DC, on October 23, 2020. - "Sudan and Israel have agreed to the normalization of relations -- another major step toward building peace in the Middle East with another nation joining the Abraham Accords," Trump said.
US President Donald Trump speaks to the leaders of Sudan and Israel as he announces that Sudan will normalize relations with Israel at the White House in Washington, DC, on October 23, 2020. - "Sudan and Israel have agreed to the normalization of relations -- another major step toward building peace in the Middle East with another nation joining the Abraham Accords," Trump said.

Last month, Sudan's ambassador to the United States, Nureldin Satti, told USA TODAY that the transitional government was not in a good position to make such a sweeping foreign policy decision. Its mandate is to strengthen Sudan's economy, "which is very dire," he said, and "it's very difficult to consider other things which are not the priority" of the Sudanese people.

Contributing: David Jackson

President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump: Sudan to normalize relations with Israel as US lifts terror label