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Sudan signs ‘Abraham Accords’ with US, paving way for Israel normalization

Deal inked during Steve Mnuchin’s trip to Khartoum, the 1st by a top US official since the Trump administration removed Sudan from terror list as part of normalization deal

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (L) and Sudanese Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari sign the Abraham Accords in Sudan's capital Khartoum, January 6, 2021. (Screen capture: Facebook)
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (L) and Sudanese Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari sign the Abraham Accords in Sudan's capital Khartoum, January 6, 2021. (Screen capture: Facebook)

Sudan on Wednesday signed the “Abraham Accords” with the United States, paving the way for the African country to normalize ties with Israel.

A statement from the office of Sudan’s prime minister said Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari signed the accord Wednesday with visiting US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The agreement signed Wednesday was a largely symbolic document, indicating Sudan’s intentions to move forward with normalization. The memorandum did not officially establish diplomatic ties between Khartoum and Jerusalem, a move that is expected to happen in the near future, at an as yet undetermined date.

Recent US-negotiated deals between Arab and Muslim countries and Israel have been a major foreign policy achievement by US President Donald Trump’s administration.

The deals were named the “Abraham Accords” after the biblical patriarch revered by Muslims and Jews.

The signing came just over two months after Trump announced that Sudan would start to normalize ties with Israel.

Before Sudan, the Trump administration engineered diplomatic pacts late last year between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Morocco also reestablished diplomatic relations with Israel, after cutting ties in 2000 in solidarity with Palestinians during the Second Intifada.

The accords have also contributed to the severe isolation and weakening of the Palestinians by eroding a longstanding Arab consensus that recognition of Israel should only be given in return for concessions in the peace process.

Mnuchin arrived in Sudan on Wednesday, the first visit by a senior American official since Trump’s administration removed the African country from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism in a deal that saw Sudan normalize its ties with Israel.

In this September 15, 2020, photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan on the Blue Room Balcony after signing the Abraham Accords during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Mnuchin landed in Khartoum’s international airport, where he was received by acting Finance Minister Heba Mohammed Ali and US Charge d’Affaires in Sudan Brian Shukan, the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

It is the first visit by a sitting US treasury chief to Sudan, the statement said. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in August became the first top American diplomat to visit Sudan since 2005, when Condoleezza Rice visited. Pompeo was also the most senior US official to visit the African country since last year’s ouster of al-Bashir.

Mnuchin’s visit came after a one-day visit to Cairo, where he met with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a close US ally. The stops are part of a flurry of activity during the final days of the Trump administration. Democrat Joe Biden becomes US president on January 20.

The US treasury secretary met with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and is scheduled to meet with other Sudanese leaders including Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling sovereign council.

The visit came “at a time when our bilateral relations are taking historical leaps towards a better future. We’re planning to make tangible strides today as our relations enter a #NewEra,” Hamdok tweeted.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok, left, elbow bumps as he welcomes US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to the Cabinet Building, in Khartoum, Sudan, January 6, 2021. (AP Photo)

Mnuchin’s one-day visit focused on the country’s struggling economy and possible US economic assistance, including debt relief, the statement said. Sudan today has more than $60 billion in foreign debt. Relief from its arrears and access to foreign loans are widely seen as its gateway to economic recovery.

Sudan’s Finance Ministry said it inked a “memorandum of understanding” with the US Treasury Department to facilitate the payment of Sudan’s arrears to the World Bank.

The ministry said the settlement would enable Sudan’s government to have more than $1 billion annually from the World Bank, for the fist time since Sudan was designated as pariah state nearly three decades ago. It did not provide further details.

The Justice Ministry, however, announced last month that the US would play a $1 billion bridge loan to the World Bank to help clear Sudan’s arrears with the institution, in addition to $1.1 billion direct and indirect aid from the US.

Sudan is on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising led the military to overthrow al-Bashir in April 2019. The county is now ruled by a joint military and civilian government that seeks better ties with Washington and the West.

The government has been struggling with a huge budget deficit and widespread shortages of essential goods, including fuel, bread and medicine.

Annual inflation soared past 200% in the past months as prices of bread and other staples surged, according to official figures.

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

Last month, Trump’s administration finalized the removal of Sudan from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism. The move was a key incentive for the government in Khartoum to normalize relations with Israel.

Sudan’s economy has suffered from decades of US sanctions and mismanagement under al-Bashir, who had ruled the country since a 1989 Islamist-backed military coup.

The designation dates back to the 1990s, when Sudan briefly hosted al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other wanted terrorists. Sudan was also believed to have served as a pipeline for Iran to supply weapons to Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

Mnuchin’s visit came amid rising tensions between military and civilian members of Sudan’s transitional government. That tensions, which resurfaced in recent weeks, have largely centered on the Sudanese military’s economic assets, over which the civilian-run finance ministry does not have control.

John Prendergast, co-founder of The Sentry watchdog group, urged The US treasury secretary to pressure the military and security apparatus to allow “independent oversight” to businesses they control.

“As Secretary Mnuchin engages with the leadership in Khartoum, it is critical that he weighs in with strong support for international anti-money laundering standards and fiscal transparency, which are essential for Sudan to counter the looting of its national economy,” he said.

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