Pompeo takes off on first official direct Tel Aviv-Khartoum flight

US secretary of state to push for normalization between Sudan and Israel during talks, capitalizing on UAE normalization deal

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo departs Israel on first ever official direct flight from Israel to Sudan, August 25, 2020 (US Embassy Twitter screenshot)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo departs Israel on first ever official direct flight from Israel to Sudan, August 25, 2020 (US Embassy Twitter screenshot)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took off on the first official direct Tel Aviv-Khartoum flight on Tuesday morning, a day after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Video released by the US embassy in Jerusalem showed an official greeting Pompeo, as he walked up the steps into his plane, saying “You are now on a historic flight,” and the top US diplomat nodding in agreement.

Israel and Sudan do not have diplomatic relations and, barring a last-minute route change, it would be the first such flight, US officials said.

The State Department announced earlier this week that Pompeo will “express support for deepening the Sudan-Israel relationship,” when he meets with Sudanese leaders as part of an effort to capitalize on momentum from the historic agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to establish diplomatic relations.

Pompeo is also slated to visit Bahrain, Oman, the UAE, and Qatar.

Pompeo will meet Chairman of the Sovereignty Council Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and Sudanese Prime Minister Dr. Abdullah Hamdok, the official Sudan News Agency reported on Monday.

According to the report, his visit will focus on normalization with Israel and the removal of Sudan from Washington’s terror blacklist as well as “support for Sudan’s democratic transition” and “peace in Sudan.”

It is the first official visit by a US secretary of state to Sudan since 2004.

Over the weekend, an Arabic report said that Mossad chief Yossi Cohen met recently with Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of Sudan’s ruling military council, in a meeting organized and hosted by the UAE. Sources with knowledge of the Cohen-Dagalo meeting told the Qatari news outlet Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that Sudan’s military council is interested in improving ties with Israel.

Last week, a Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sky News Arabia that his country was interested in establishing ties with Israel. Khartoum denied talks were underway and Haidar Badawi Sadiq was fired the next day.

Speaking with Israel’s Kan public broadcaster in a subsequent interview, Sadiq said he had been tired of the talks with Israel only being confirmed by outside sources.

Sadiq said he did not understand why his comments had caused such uproar, claiming that Sudan had begun warming relations with Israel before the UAE.

Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Haidar Badawi Sadiq was fired on August 19, 2020, a day after expressing support for peace with Israel. (YouTube screenshot)

Israel officials have long expressed a wish for improved ties with Khartoum, citing its importance in the region as well as its geographic location. The nation was the birthplace of the Arab League’s 1967 policy refusing negotiations or normalization with Israel, but, in recent years, has seemingly softened its stance, moving out of Iran’s sphere of influence as it has desperately sought the removal of US sanctions as a supporter of Hamas, Hezbollah and other terror groups.

A Sudanese government official told The Associated Press last Tuesday that deliberations between Sudanese and Israeli officials have been going on for months, with help from Egypt, the UAE, and the US.

“It’s a matter of time. We are finalizing everything. The Emirati move encouraged us and helped calm some voices within the government who were afraid of backlash from the Sudanese public,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

Pompeo’s Middle East visit has generated controversy back in the United States, where critics have accused him of politicizing his position by agreeing to address the Republican National Convention via video in support of Donald Trump’s reelection while on a diplomatic mission.

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