US President Donald Trump on Friday signed a waiver to remove Khartoum from the State Department’s blacklist of state terror sponsors, a move widely seen as a precursor to Sudan normalizing ties with Israel that officials said could come later Friday.
The move was initially announced by Sudan’s ruling body, which called the step a “historic day for Sudan and its glorious revolution.”
“President Donald J. Trump has informed Congress of his intent to formally rescind Sudan’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism,” the White House said. “Today represents a momentous step forward in the United States-Sudan bilateral relationship and marks a pivotal turning point for Sudan, allowing for a new future of collaboration and support for its ongoing and historic democratic transition,”
Trump announced his intention to sign the waiver on Monday, saying he would go through with the move after Sudan followed through on its pledge to deliver $335 million to compensate American victims of past terror attacks and their families. Sudan transferred the funds the next day.
The money is meant for victims of the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by the al-Qaeda network while its leader, Osama bin Laden, was living in Sudan.
“By finally serving justice for the American people, President Trump was able to achieve what previous presidents could not – the resolution of longstanding claims of victims of the East Africa embassy bombings, the attack on the USS Cole, and the murder of USAID employee John Granville,” the White House said. “This is a significant achievement for the President and his Administration and brings a measure of closure to many to whom it has long been out of reach.”
Sudan’s presence on the terror list — along with Iran, North Korea and Syria — subjects it to crippling economic sanctions and limits the impoverished country’s access to international credit.
Congress now has 45 days to approve the measure.
With Sudan off the terror blacklist, the US is banking on the Arab nation agreeing to normalize relations with Israel. Washington has been pressuring Khartoum to do so for weeks.
Reports said a deal could come as soon as Friday evening.
A senior US official told the Reuters news agency an agreement between Israel and Sudan on steps toward normalization of diplomatic ties was expected to be announced later on Friday.
A Sudanese official told Israel’s Kan public broadcaster that a four-way call between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, Sovereign Council president General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and civilian leader and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to announce “the start of a process to end hostilities between the countries” would be held either Friday or Saturday.
Sudanese officials confirmed on Thursday that a senior US-Israeli delegation flew to Sudan on a private jet on Wednesday to wrap up a deal that would make Sudan the third Arab country to normalize ties with Israel this year.
Amid claims that a deal with Sudan could be announced within days, two government sources who spoke with Reuters said Hamdok has agreed, in principle, to normalize ties but not immediately — conditioning the move on ratification by a still non-existent transitional parliament.
The Israeli-US group met with al-Burhan and a top adviser to Hamdok, Sudanese government sources said. Israeli sources requesting anonymity had earlier told AFP that an Israeli delegation had traveled to Sudan on Wednesday to discuss the same issue.
Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising last year led the military to overthrow longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir. A military-civilian government rules the country, with elections possible in late 2022.
It remains unclear when a transitional parliament will be formed amid negotiations between the civilian and military parts of the transitional government.
US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Thursday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to Hamdok on Thursday.
“Secretary Pompeo applauded Prime Minister Hamdok’s efforts-to-date to improve Sudan’s relationship with Israel and expressed hope that they would continue, and underscored continuing US support for Sudan’s ongoing democratic transition,” she said.
Netanyahu and Burhan in February held a landmark meeting in Uganda.
While Sudan does not have the influence or wealth of the Gulf Arab countries, a deal with the African country would be deeply significant for Israel.
Sudan hosted a landmark Arab League conference after the 1967 Six-Day War where eight Arab countries approved the “three ‘no’s”: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations.
In 1993, the US designated Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism, in part for its support of anti-Israel terror groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah. Under al-Bashir, Sudan was believed to have served as a pipeline for Iran to supply weapons to Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Israel was believed to have been behind airstrikes in Sudan that destroyed a weapons convoy in 2009 and a weapons factory in 2012.
For its part, The Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think-tank, warned recently that the debate about Israel ties “has ignored the fragility of Sudan’s political transition.”
It warned that “if normalization is seen as resulting from exploitation of Sudan’s economic and humanitarian desperation, it will be even more polarizing among the public [and] accelerate the erosion of support for the transition.”