Sudan: Khartoum to Normalise Ties With Israel, in New Breakthrough for Trump

Flag of Sudan.
23 October 2020
  • The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed an accord at the White House last month to normalise relations with Israel but Sudan carries added symbolism as an Arab nation that has been at war with Israel.
  • Both the United States and Israel committed to boosting trade with Sudan, an impoverished, conflict-ridden nation that had faced years of criticism over its violent internal campaigns until the fall of dictator Omar al-Bashir last year.

Khartoum – Sudan on Friday normalised relations with Israel in the continuing carrot-and-stick proposal by the US to drop sanctions imposed on Khartoum.

This means Sudan is now the fifth country in the Middle East to recognise the Jewish nation after Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates opened communication channels with Jerusalem last month. Egypt and Jordan had been the only countries in the region that traditionally recognised Israel, but for their own peace and security reasons.

The decision by Khartoum came after Israeli officials toured Sudan this week in a delicate but planned meeting to discuss an agreement that would see Sudan recognise Israel, and the US finally remove Khartoum from a list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

A dispatch issued on Friday said the United States, Sudan and Israel had made "historic progress" for peace in the Middle East.

The statement said US President Donald Trump spoke with President of the Sudanese Sovereign Council Chairman Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today to discuss the historical progress of Sudan and opportunities to promote peace in the region.

"After decades of living under a brutal dictatorship, the people of Sudan finally took over. The Sudanese transitional government has shown its courage and commitment to fighting terrorism, building its democratic institutions, and improving its relations with its neighbors," President Trump added.

The statement explained, "In light of this historical progress, and after President Trump's decision to remove Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism, the United States and Israel agreed to partner with Sudan in its new beginning and to ensure its full integration into the international community."

Debt forgiveness

Sudan has been subject to economic sanctions since 1993 due to its being placed on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The joint statement indicated that the United States will take steps to restore the sovereign immunity of Sudan and engage its international partners to reduce its debt burden, including advancing discussions on debt forgiveness in line with the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative.

It noted the commitment of the United States and Israel to work with their partners to support the people of Sudan in enhancing their democracy, improving food security, combating terrorism and extremism, and realising their economic potential.

"The leaders' agreement to normalise relations between Sudan and Israel and end the state of hostility between their two countries. In addition, the leaders agreed to initiate economic and trade relations, with an initial focus on agriculture, combating terrorism and extremism, and making use of their economic potential.

"The leaders agreed that delegations would meet in the coming weeks to negotiate cooperation agreements in these fields, as well as in the fields of agricultural technology, aviation, immigration issues and other areas for the benefit of the two peoples. The leaders also resolved to work together to build a better future and promote the cause of peace in the region."

The statement indicated that this step would improve regional security and unlock new opportunities for the people of Sudan, Israel, the Middle East and Africa.

It also stressed that "this historic agreement is a testament to the bold approach and vision of the four leaders".

The Sudanese and Israeli leaders expressed their appreciation to President Trump for his pragmatic and unique approach to ending old conflicts and building a future of peace and opportunities for all peoples of the region."

Terror list

Trump announced the agreement by Sudan's year-old civilian-backed government moments after he formally moved to end the nation's designation of a state sponsor of terrorism, which was a major goal for Khartoum.

As part of the deal to get off the terror blacklist, the White House said that Sudan's transitional government had deposited $335 million to compensate survivors and family members of anti-US attacks that took place when Bashir's regime welcomed Al-Qaeda.

Prime Minister Hamdok, thanked Trump over the terror designation without mentioning recognition of Israel -- a step he had earlier said he was not empowered to take.

"This decision will open wide the door to Sudan's deserved return to the international community and the international financial and banking sector, as well as to regional and international investment," Hamdok's office said in a statement that did not mention ties with Israel.

But Sudanese TV later said Sudan had in fact agreed to end the state of war with Israel and normalise ties.

Also on the telephone call was Sudan's top general, Al-Burhan, who met Netanyahu earlier this year in Uganda.

Reporters were escorted into the Oval Office where Trump was on speakerphone with Sudan's leadership and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of the embattled Republican president.

"This truly changes the region. It changes the lives of our peoples for the better and allows us to focus on the task of building our nations, building our future," Netanyahu was heard telling Trump.

Trump said that more Arab states are also looking to recognise Israel including regional power Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's two holiest cities.

"We have at least five more that want to come in and we'll have many more than that soon," Trump said in a room packed with aides, few of them wearing masks despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Until last month, the only Arab nations to recognise Israel were Jordan and Egypt -- neighbours of the Jewish state that had made peace after US mediation.

Trump's leverage

Trump had announced his plan to delist Sudan on Monday through Twitter. But in the days before he formally took the move, Israel sent a delegation to Khartoum to discuss normalisation.

The President, who is trailing in the polls ahead of the November 3 vote, has used his leverage over Sudan to press for recognition of Israel.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced hope on Wednesday that Sudan would "promptly" recognise the Jewish state -- a major cause for Trump's evangelical Christian base.

Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates had long enjoyed quiet relations with Israel but a move by Sudan is especially significant in light of the nation's history.

Sudan played a small part in Arab-Israeli wars and, after Israel's decisive victory in 1967, Khartoum was where the Arab League issued its famous "three no's" -- no peace, no recognition and no negotiations with Israel.

Sudan has been seeking for years to remove the designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, which severely impedes investment as few foreign businesses want to risk the wrath of US prosecution.

With Trump's formal move, Congress has 45 days in which it can pass a resolution to object to the delisting.

Congress is not expected to block the delisting but it must also approve legislation to grant Sudan immunity from further claims.

Until then, the $335 million will be held in an escrow account.

The money includes compensation to survivors and family members of those killed in Al-Qaeda's twin attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

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