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US removes Sudan from sponsors of terrorism blacklist

Israel, Sudan

WASHINGTON: The United States has removed Sudan from its state sponsors of terrorism blacklist and declared a “fundamental change” in relations, less than two months after the Arab state pledged to normalise ties with Israel.

The move opens the way for aid, debt relief and investment to a country going though a rocky political transition and struggling under a severe economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

US President Donald Trump had announced in October that he was delisting Sudan, 27 years after Washington first put the country on its blacklist for harbouring terrorists.

The US embassy in Khartoum on Monday said the step had been formalised, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later confirmed that “Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism is officially rescinded”.

“This represents a fundamental change in our bilateral relationship toward greater collaboration and support for Sudan’s historic democratic transition,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Sudan’s army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan – who serves as the head of the Sovereign Council, the country’s highest executive authority – offered his “congratulations to the Sudanese people”.

“It was a task accomplished… in the spirit of the December revolution”, he said on Twitter, referring to a landmark month in 2018 when protests erupted against dictator Omar al-Bashir who was deposed by the military in April 2019, four months into the demonstrations against his iron-fisted rule and 30 years after a coup had brought him to power.

Pompeo said that “we commend the calls of the Sudanese people for freedom, peace and justice, and we congratulate the members of the civilian-led transitional government for their courage in advancing the aspirations of the citizens they serve”.

The US Treasury said it planned to work with Sudan “to help clear its arrears at the international financial institutions and to advance Sudan’s efforts to secure debt relief in 2021”. The European Union also hailed the “significant milestone”, saying it would provide “positive momentum for the country’s economic recovery and move it closer to an eventual debt relief,” a goal it said the EU supports.

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok also welcomed Washington’s move noting that it means “our beloved country… (is) relieved from the international and global siege” provoked by Bashir’s behaviour.

The removal of the designation “contributes to reforming the economy, attracting investments and remittances of our citizens abroad through official channels” and creates new job opportunities for youth, the premier said.

As part of a deal, Sudan agreed to pay $335 million to compensate survivors and victims’ families from the twin 1998 al-Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the attack on the USS Cole off Yemen’s coast in 2000. Those attacks were carried out after Bashir had allowed Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden sanctuary in Sudan.

Sudan became the third Arab country in as many months to pledge that it would normalise relations with Israel, after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Unlike the UAE and Bahrain, Sudan has yet to agree on a formal deal with Israel, amid wrangling within the fractious transitional power structure over the move.

Trump sent his notice to remove Sudan from the terror blacklist to Congress on October 26. Under US law, a country exits the list after 45 days unless Congress objects, which it has not. Families of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks had called on lawmakers to reject the State Department’s proposal, saying they want to pursue legal action against Sudan.