Normalisation of Sudan’s relations with Israel must not be tied to its long-awaited removal from a US list of state sponsors of terrorism (SST), according to Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
The Trump administration has made the removal of the SST designation contingent on Khartoum normalising relations with Jerusalem. The SST listing – which dates back to the country’s role as a haven for Islamist terror group Al-Qaeda under former President Omar al-Bashir – prevents it from accessing international financial markets and multilateral development assistance even as it attempts to move on from 30 years of brutal autocracy.
Speaking at the Financial Times Africa Summit, Hamdok, the prime minister in Sudan’s transitional civilian-military government, which assumed power last year after the ousting of al-Bashir, insisted that the issues must be separated in ongoing negotiations with the United States government.
“In terms of the delisting and the normalisation with Israel, we said very clearly to our American friends that we need to separate the two tracks for Sudan to be removed from the SST list…As far as normalisation is concerned we said this is a separate track. We like to believe normalisation is not an event, it’s a process. We’d need to embark on it in a process that will take its own course, so we’d really like to see these two tracks separated and addressed separately.”
Sudan is desperate to reset relations with the US and access international financial support and development assistance following its 2019 revolution. The IMF predicts that the Sudanese economy will shrink by 7.2% this year as continued isolation, droughts, and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic decimate the new government’s growth prospects. Sudan’s designation as an SST prevents it from accessing even humanitarian assistance relating to Covid-19 from institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, said a frustrated Hamdok.
“I thought these IFIs would have instruments that would allow (them) to operate in an extraordinary situation, where you can go behind or around such sanctions for an institution which we are members in. We are no longer a pariah state in all means and purposes. and we thought that would happen. We are very much disappointed with that, but we are engaging with them.”
Normalisation of relations with Israel remains controversial in Sudan given the long history of enmity between the countries. The US drive to force an improvement in relations follows the US-brokered normalisation of Israel’s relations with Washington’s Gulf allies Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in September. While keen to separate Israel relations from sanctions relief, Hamdok said that Sudan has made significant concessions in talks with the United States, including agreeing compensation for Sudan-linked historic Islamist terrorist attacks including the 1998 US embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.
“Our position in this was very clear from the beginning. We started negotiating with the American administration since we came in September last year. I think I must say we made extremely good progress, we’d like to believe we ticked all the relevant boxes for us to qualify to be removed from the state sponsors of terrorism list. After all, Sudan as a people have never been terrorists, this was the deeds of the former regime that’s been toppled by the people of Sudan themselves.”
Hamdok said that a deal on delisting will be a “game-changer” for Sudan.
“If we were to open the country this would go a long way in creating this climate that would allow investors to come in and work with us, we’d like to open the country for serious companies and investors to come and invest with us, help us develop this country, make profit, and be able to repatriate it.”