US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday he hoped Sudan would soon recognize Israel, as Washington moved to remove the Arab country as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Speculation that such an announcement might be imminent was heightened by the spotting of a business jet making a highly unusual direct flight from Tel Aviv to Khartoum, and heading back later in the day.
Pompeo said that the United States wanted every nation “to recognize Israel, the rightful Jewish homeland, to acknowledge their fundamental right to exist as a country.”
“We are working diligently with them to make the case for why that’s in the Sudanese government’s best interest to make that sovereign decision,” Pompeo told reporters.
“We hope that they’ll do that, and we hope that they’ll do that quickly.”
Trump announced Monday that the United States would remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, a major goal of the year-old civilian-backed government.
Seeing leverage, the Trump administration had asked Sudan to look at normalizing relations with Israel, a close US ally and signature cause for Trump’s evangelical Christian base ahead of November 3 elections.
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have both normalized relations with Israel in recent weeks.
Sudan was designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 after then-dictator Omar al-Bashir welcomed Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.
To exit the blacklist, which has severely impeded investment, the cash-strapped nation agreed to pay $335 million to survivors and victims’ families from Al-Qaeda twin bombings in 1998 of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Pompeo said that the United States had “begun the process” of the delisting. Congress then has 45 days in which it can raise objections.
“We think that there will be enormous bipartisan consensus that that’s the right thing to do,” Pompeo said.
Speculation regarding a decision from Sudan to normalize ties with Israel got a boost Wednesday when a flight tracking site recorded a mysterious unregistered business jet that traveled directly from Israel to Sudan and back on Wednesday.
The flight was first flagged by a Haaretz editor.
Tel Aviv to Khartoum, Sudan bizjet – this morning. 9H-VFJ
This is the 2nd known direct flight between the two countries (1st one, in reply)
It's been reported Sudan may be next to normalize relations w Israel, following Trump removing Sudan from state sponsors of terrorism list pic.twitter.com/zRT8cTKhUz
— avi scharf (@avischarf) October 21, 2020
Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis told Israel’s Army Radio on Wednesday that an announcement on ties would likely come before the US election. “I have a reasonable basis to believe that the announcement will come before November 3. That… is what I understand from my sources,” he said.
Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen echoed that sentiment, telling Channel 13 News that Jerusalem was “very close to normalizing ties with Sudan.”
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman expressed certainty that there were several Arab countries that will normalize with Israel.
“There will be more countries that are in the Arab League that will normalize and make peace with Israel, I have no doubt it is a certainty. How many, in what order, I think everyone will have to wait and see,” he told Israel Hayom.
Sudan is currently ruled by a fragile transitional Sovereignty Council run by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who has reportedly been generally supportive of ties with Israel. His civilian counterpart, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, however, has been far more hesitant.
Al-Burhan is scheduled to hand over control of the Sovereignty Council to Hamdok in 2022. But the normalization question has reportedly driven a wedge between the two leaders, with al-Burhan increasingly frustrated by Hamdok’s insistence that the transitional government has no mandate to handle the normalization question at this time.
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.
Details of the US-Sudan agreement have not been publicized, but The New York Times reported last month that Sudanese officials had also requested $3 billion to $4 billion in aid in exchange for normalizing relations with Israel.
Al-Burhan held talks last month in the United Arab Emirates with US and Emirati officials.
During those negotiations, Sudan turned down an offer of $800 million in aid and investments as part of an exchange for a deal with Israel, according to The Times. Most of the sum would have been paid by the US and UAE, with Israel paying around $10 million.
Israeli officials have long expressed a wish for better relations with Khartoum. But Sudanese officials had been rejecting the US effort to tie Khartoum’s removal from the blacklist to its normalizing ties with Israel.