Donald Trump says he has agreed to remove Sudan from a list of sponsors of terrorism in exchange for Khartoum paying millions of dollars in compensation to US terror victims and families.
“Great news! New government of Sudan, which is making great progress, agreed to pay $335m to US terror victims and families,” said Mr Trump in a tweet on Monday. “Once deposited, I will lift Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. At long last, justice for the American people and [a] big step for Sudan!”
The US put Sudan on the list of state sponsors in 1993 when Omar al-Bashir’s regime was hosting Osama bin Laden in Khartoum. The northeastern African state, devastated by years of mismanagement, civil war and corruption, was cut off from the international finance system.
Although US intelligence officials have subsequently developed good relations with their counterparts in Khartoum, Washington had said it would not remove Sudan from the terrorist list until it paid compensation of $300m to families of victims in 1998 bombings carried out by al-Qaeda outside US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. In April Sudan agreed to pay victims of the families of 17 US sailors killed on the USS Cole in a 2000 attack in Aden.
Although Mr Trump made no mention of protracted US efforts to convince Sudan to normalise diplomatic ties with Israel as part of the bargain, a person familiar with the negotiations said Khartoum was expected to make the payment imminently and to normalise ties with Israel soon afterwards.
“Officially, there is no ‘linkage’, but [the State Sponsors of Terrorism listing] will be lifted midweek and a few days later the Sudanese will ‘spontaneously’ decide to normalise,” the person said.
The Trump administration has been seeking foreign policy wins in the final weeks of Mr Trump’s re-election campaign. The president said last month that he expected “five or six” countries would normalise ties with Israel after a deal was brokered with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, but US officials have yet to secure agreement from any others.
Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, visited Sudan in late August, and Sudanese officials visited the UAE last month.
Abdalla Hamdok, the Sudanese prime minister, welcomed the US announcement. “Thank you so much, President Trump! We very much look forward to your official notification to Congress rescinding the designation of Sudan as a state-sponsor of terrorism, which has cost Sudan too much,” Mr Hamdok said on Twitter.
“This tweet and that notification are the strongest support to Sudan’s transition to democracy and to the Sudanese people,” he added.
Judd Devermont, Africa director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and formerly the top US intelligence official for Africa, said the breakthrough was a “big win” for the transitional government, which would reset US-Sudan relations and facilitate reform of the country’s security services as it presided over a crippled economy.
“The president’s tweet marks a milestone in US-Sudanese relations, setting the stage for Sudan to shed its pariah image, rejoin the international community, and remove a longstanding shackle on Sudan’s economy,” he said.
Without US backing, Sudan is unable to write off $60bn in past debts or access new multilateral lending for its troubled economy. This has added to pressure on the hybrid civilian-military government led by Mr Hamdok to reach a deal with the US to remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Sudan is expected to borrow the money in order to pay the US.
One US official privately blamed Mr Hamdok for drawing out the timeline for the deal, describing him as “dithering and indecisive”.
Once Mr Trump makes an official notification to Congress for Sudan’s withdrawal from the list, Congress will have 45 days to respond. Sudan would be removed from the list unless both the House and the Senate passed an objection, which officials thought was unlikely.
However, a senior Sudanese official was sceptical of the president’s announcement, saying: “Trump does not give such a decision for free . . . such news remains fake until we see the results implemented on the ground.”
Frank and Yasemin Pressley of Palm Beach, Florida, who were both injured in the Nairobi bombing, called it “an incredibly meaningful moment for us”.
“After 22 years, the Trump administration finally has gotten Sudan to accept responsibility for what it did,” they said in a statement.