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US eyes Su­dan for Is­raeli peace pact

Pres­i­dent Trump’s weighs chance to bro­ker new Mid­dle East deal.

- By Nick Co­rasan­iti Military · Terrorism · U.S. News · Warfare and Conflicts · Middle East News · Politics · Middle East Politics · World Politics · Sudan · U.S. State Department · Israel · United Arab Emirates · Bahrain · White House · United States of America · Congress of the United States · Kenya · Tanzania · United States Department of Commerce · Nairobi · Middle East · North Africa · Africa · Benjamin Netanyahu · Arab League · Egypt · Jerusalem · Jordan · Hezbollah · Iran · North Korea · South Korea · World Bank · International Monetary Fund · Uganda · Washington · al-Qaeda · Charles Schumer · United States Department of Justice · Donald Trump · Khartoum · Anwar el Sadat · Omar al-Bashir · Mike Pompeo

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is pre­par­ing to re­move Su­dan from a list of states that spon­sor ter­ror­ism, seek­ing an­other for­eign pol­icy vic­tory be­fore the elec­tion but putting at risk the com­pen­sa­tion for victims of ter­ror­ist at­tacks that US courts have con­cluded were car­ried out with Khar­toum’s sup­port.

Su­dan has been on the ter­ror­ism list since 1993 and, as a re­sult, has been re­stricted from re­ceiv­ing the global as­sis­tance that would help sta­bilise its new gov­ern­ment and fo­ment democ­racy. Its delist­ing is widely ex­pected in the next few weeks, ac­cord­ing to sources at the State Depart­ment.

That would also clear the way for Su­dan to nor­malise diplo­matic re­la­tions with Is­rael in an ac­cord sim­i­lar to those the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion helped the Jewish state ce­ment this month with the United Arab Emi­rates and Bahrain and that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump cel­e­brated at the White House last week with a prom­ise that other na­tions would soon join them.

A full diplo­matic ac­cord be­tween Is­rael and Su­dan would be dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble, while Su­dan re­mains on the US ter­ror­ism list. But the ad­min­is­tra­tion in­tends to move ahead with­out leg­is­la­tion from Congress that would as­sure im­me­di­ate com­pen­sa­tion for victims of bomb­ings against US em­bassies in Kenya and Tan­za­nia in 1998 and the de­stroyer USS Cole in 2000 and their fam­i­lies, who have ex­pected to be paid a $335 mil­lion (10.5 bil­lion baht) set­tle­ment from Su­dan for har­bour­ing mil­i­tants who car­ried out the at­tacks.

“It’s ba­si­cally en­abling Su­dan to get off the list with­out any penalty,” said Riz Khaliq, a for­mer Com­merce Depart­ment of­fi­cial who was in­jured in the at­tack on the US Em­bassy in Nairobi, Kenya’s cap­i­tal. “There won’t be any rea­son for Su­dan to make the victims whole in any way,” Mr Khaliq said. “They have what they wanted, and frankly the victims who were im­pacted by the ter­ror­ist list are left high and dry.”

“That’s re­ally painful and dis­tress­ing,” he added. The new plan would place the money in an es­crow ac­count, to be re­leased to victims once Congress gives Su­dan im­mu­nity from fu­ture le­gal claims for past ter­ror­ist at­tacks. But Congress re­fused to in­clude the le­gal pro­tec­tions in a spend­ing bill that was ne­go­ti­ated this week, all but cer­tainly de­lay­ing the pay­out — if it hap­pens at all — un­til af­ter the elec­tion Nov 3.

Of­fi­cials cau­tioned that a fi­nal de­ci­sion to re­move Su­dan from the ter­ror­ism list must be ap­proved by the White House. But Mr Trump is not ex­pected to wait for Congress to act. With six weeks be­fore the elec­tion, Mr Trump has cited the warm­ing ties among once-ri­val states in the Mid­dle East and North Africa as an ex­am­ple of his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s diplo­matic prow­ess. Five ad­di­tional coun­tries are con­sid­er­ing for­mal re­la­tions with Is­rael, the pres­i­dent said on Sept 15, and of­fi­cials have said they in­clude Su­dan.

“We’ll be sign­ing up other na­tions,” Mr Trump said at the White House last week, shortly be­fore Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu of Is­rael signed the ac­cords with the United Arab Emi­rates and Bahrain, with the deputy Su­danese am­bas­sador in the au­di­ence. “And th­ese are very strong agree­ments. Th­ese are very strong. This is re­ally peace. This is se­ri­ous peace.”

Ce­ment­ing di­plo­macy be­tween Is­rael and Su­dan would be a coup for the ad­min­is­tra­tion, given their tur­bu­lent his­tory. It was in Khar­toum af­ter the Arab-Is­raeli War in 1967 that the Arab League an­nounced its “three no’s” res­o­lu­tion, which op­posed peace, ne­go­ti­a­tions and recog­ni­tion of Is­rael. That was widely recog­nised among Arab states un­til Pres­i­dent An­war Sa­dat of Egypt made a his­toric trip to Jerusalem in 1977. Un­til last week’s ac­cords, Egypt and Jor­dan were the only two Arab states with for­mal diplo­matic re­la­tions with Is­rael.

Su­dan was placed on the US list of state spon­sors of ter­ror­ism af­ter of­fi­cials con­cluded in 1993 that the gov­ern­ment of its leader at the time, Omar al-Bashir, pro­vided refuge and other sup­port to Hezbol­lah and Pales­tinian groups. Only three other na­tions — Iran, North Korea and Syria — are on the State Depart­ment list that re­stricts as­sis­tance from the United States and, ef­fec­tively, the World Bank and In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund.

But in 2016, af­ter Su­dan cut its diplo­matic ties with Iran, the United States be­gan eas­ing sanc­tions against Khar­toum to re­ward its co­op­er­a­tion on coun­tert­er­ror­ism mis­sions and end­ing mil­i­tary at­tacks against Su­danese cit­i­zens. The de­tente was fu­elled last year by al-Bashir’s ouster and in­ter­na­tional ef­forts to sup­port democ­racy in the new tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment.

Is­rael has cul­ti­vated its own nascent ties with the coun­try. In Fe­bru­ary, Mr Ne­tanyahu met with Su­dan’s de facto leader, Lt Gen Ab­del-Fat­tah Burhan, for talks in Uganda that were re­port­edly ar­ranged by the United Arab Emi­rates. Days later, Su­dan be­gan al­low­ing Is­raeli com­mer­cial planes to fly in its airspace.

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo has the author­ity to re­move Su­dan from the ter­ror­ism list with­out con­gres­sional ap­proval. Meet­ing last month in Khar­toum with Prime Min­is­ter Ab­dalla Ham­dok, Mr Pom­peo de­scribed delist­ing Su­dan as “a crit­i­cal bi­lat­eral priority for both coun­tries.” The two men also “dis­cussed pos­i­tive devel­op­ments in the Su­dan-Is­rael re­la­tion­ship,” ac­cord­ing to a State Depart­ment sum­mary of the meet­ing. They spoke again on Sept 12.

Su­dan’s lawyer in Washington, Christo­pher Cur­ran, said the tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment wanted to “fully re­join the com­mu­nity of re­spectable na­tions.” He said that would hap­pen by Su­dan en­ter­ing into in­ter­na­tional trade, set­tling past li­a­bil­i­ties and with “the forth­com­ing dedes­ig­na­tion as a state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism.”

Un­til re­cently, Mr Pom­peo has in­di­cated he would wait to take Su­dan off the ter­ror­ism list un­til pay­ments for the bomb­ing victims are as­sured. But with a set­tle­ment be­tween the United States and Su­dan snarled in Congress, of­fi­cials said Mr Pom­peo was will­ing to move for­ward.

Su­dan in­sists it will hold the $335 mil­lion in victims’ com­pen­sa­tion in es­crow un­til it re­ceives le­gal im­mu­nity from Congress to pro­tect it­self from new fi­nan­cial claims for past ter­ror­ist at­tacks. But Su­dan is un­likely to hold the money in­def­i­nitely, ac­cord­ing to a gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the coun­try, given its ram­pant poverty, rapidly weak­en­ing econ­omy and $60 bil­lion in in­ter­na­tional debt.

The fragility of a years-long process to bol­ster Su­dan’s sta­bil­ity and com­pen­sate ter­ror­ism victims alarmed a bi­par­ti­san group of sen­a­tors who noted in a Sept 14 let­ter a “rare op­por­tu­nity” for the United States to help the coun­try “move away from a regime that, for decades, sup­ported ter­ror­ism and sti­fled free­dom.”

But Congress is di­vided over the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­proach. Some law­mak­ers have ob­jected to un­equal dis­tri­bu­tion of pay­ments for the victims of the East Africa em­bassy bomb­ings that would award US cit­i­zens far more than Kenyan and Tan­za­nian em­ploy­ees — nearly all of whom are black — who were for­eign cit­i­zens at the time of the at­tacks.

Ad­di­tion­ally, fam­i­lies of victims of the Sept 11, 2001, at­tacks are seek­ing com­pen­sa­tion since Su­dan was a long-time haven for al-Qaeda. Sup­ported by law­mak­ers who rep­re­sent the re­gion, in­clud­ing Sen Chuck Schumer, D-NY, the mi­nor­ity leader, those fam­i­lies have broadly ob­jected to the im­mu­nity leg­is­la­tion be­fore their own le­gal cases against Su­dan are re­solved. “Congress should not deny fam­i­lies of Sept 11 victims their day in court,” said Alex Nguyen, Mr Schumer’s spokesman.

Con­gres­sional of­fi­cials said that it was pos­si­ble a last-minute deal could be reached — in­clud­ing one that would mol­lify some of the fam­i­lies of Sept 11 victims by mak­ing them el­i­gi­ble for $1 bil­lion in ad­di­tional pay­outs from a sep­a­rate Jus­tice Depart­ment victims’ fund.

 ??  ?? POS­I­TIVE SIGNS: Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pre­sides over a South Lawn cer­e­mony where Is­rael, Bahrain and the United Arab Emi­rates signed a gen­eral dec­la­ra­tion of prin­ci­ples named the Abra­ham Ac­cords.
POS­I­TIVE SIGNS: Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pre­sides over a South Lawn cer­e­mony where Is­rael, Bahrain and the United Arab Emi­rates signed a gen­eral dec­la­ra­tion of prin­ci­ples named the Abra­ham Ac­cords.

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