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Israel-Sudan normalization at risk over US terror lawsuits law — report

Khartoum could pull its agreement to warm ties with the Jewish state if progress not made in coming weeks to protect it from litigation by victims, NYT reports

A man holds a poster with Arabic that reads, 'We will not give up, we will not sell out, we will not agree on normalization,' as others chant slogans to protest Sudanese President of the Sovereignty Council Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan's contentious decision to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a move toward normalizing relations, in Khartoum, Sudan, Feb. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali)
A man holds a poster with Arabic that reads, 'We will not give up, we will not sell out, we will not agree on normalization,' as others chant slogans to protest Sudanese President of the Sovereignty Council Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan's contentious decision to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a move toward normalizing relations, in Khartoum, Sudan, Feb. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali)

The normalization deal between Israel and Sudan is reportedly at risk of falling apart just a month after it was announced, due to a Sudanese demand that the US approve legislation protecting the African country from terror-related lawsuits by the end of the year.

Khartoum is anxious for the US Congress to pass a new law as soon as possible and could pull its “reluctant” agreement to normalize relations with the Jewish state if progress is not made within the coming weeks, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Five officials, as well as other people with knowledge of the talks who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed to the newspaper the new deadline as well as recent discussions on the matter.

Sudan was the third Arab state — after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — to publicly agree to establish ties with Israel over the past three months. Khartoum did so under considerable pressure from the administration of outgoing US President Donald Trump, who reportedly demanded that Sudan normalize ties with the Jewish state in exchange for sanctions relief.

Long a pariah state due to the close ties between the previous regime of Omar al-Bashir and international terror groups, Khartoum was placed on an American list of “state sponsors of terror” in 1993. Once on the list, Sudan was subjected to crippling sanctions and denied access to international credit.

US President Donald Trump talks on a phone call with the leaders of Sudan and Israel, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien applaud, in the Oval Office of the White House, October 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

According to the New York Times report, Sudanese officials say the country will exit the accords with Israel if the US Congress refuses to give it immunity from future terrorism claims in court, which could spark new sanctions.

Legislators, however, are reportedly deadlocked over a clause that would block victims of past terror attacks from seeking new compensation from Sudan.

Without the congressionally approved immunity, foreign investors may be turned off Sudan for fear they could end up paying for billions of dollars in compensation to terror victims, the report said.

Sudan’s de facto leader, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan spoke on Monday with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and make clear that his country would not move forward with warming ties with Israel before the US Congress passes legislation to guarantee it would not face future sanctions.

Lifting sanctions — giving the ailing Sudanese economy a much-needed boost — is popular in Sudan. But the agreement to normalize ties with Israel, allegedly as part of the deal, met with some domestic opposition. Prominent civilian political figures opposed the move, and a few small, scattered protests were held around the country.

The cabinet, which is run by Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, is distinct from the military-run Sovereignty Council. Since the downfall of former dictator al-Bashir in 2019, the Sovereignty Council, led by Burhan, has been Sudan’s de facto ruling authority.

Sudanese Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, head of the military council, waves to his supporters upon arriving to attend a military-backed rally, in Omdurman district, west of Khartoum, Sudan, June 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Civilian leaders in Sudan have accused the military of going behind their backs in making deals with Israel. In February, al-Burhan secretly met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda, reportedly without notifying his civilian counterparts. When news of the meeting became public, Hamdok disavowed any knowledge of al-Burhan’s trip.

In an interview on Saturday night with the Egyptian newspaper al-Shorouk, al-Burhan emphasized that both processes — the decision to establish closer relations with Israel and to remove Sudan from the terrorism sponsor list — would continue under the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden.

“The arrival of the Democratic president in the White House is certainly not worrisome. America is a state with strong institutions. In the institutional state, treaties are respected… America is a supporter of peace and ending conflict in the region and in the world,” al-Burhan said.

Al-Burhan also reemphasized Sudan’s commitment to the process of normalizing ties with Israel.

“How did Sudan benefit from its enmity with a state which is a member of the United Nations, and which has become an accepted member of the international community, no matter the circumstances which attended its establishment?” al-Burhan said.

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