Sudan, US ink deal blocking further compensation claims in American courts

Agreement comes after Washington removes country from terror blacklist, secures $335 million in compensation for terror victims

President Donald Trump speaks about a Sudan-Israel peace agreement, in the Oval Office on October 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. Jared Kushner is behind him (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP
President Donald Trump speaks about a Sudan-Israel peace agreement, in the Oval Office on October 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. Jared Kushner is behind him (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP

CAIRO (AP) — Sudan says it has signed an agreement with the US that could effectively stop any future compensation claims being filed against the African country in US courts, following Washington’s decision to remove the country from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The deal restores in US courts what is known as sovereign immunity to the Sudanese government, and comes after a year of negotiations between the Trump administration and Sudan’s new leadership, the Sudanese Justice Ministry said.

A transitional government led by a mix of military and civilian figures currently rules Sudan, after the overthrow of former leader Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 led to the country seeking better ties with the US.

Sudanese Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari said that the agreement will allow Sudan “to resolve historical liabilities, restore normal relations with the United States, and move forward toward democracy and better economic times.”

The ministry said the deal, signed at the US State Department Friday, was meant to settle all lawsuits against Sudan in American courts, including those related to the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The deal would enter into force after US Congress passes legislation needed to implement the agreement.

Sudanese Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan speaks during a military-backed rally in Omdurman district, west of Khartoum, Sudan, June 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, file)

Sudan’s transitional government has agreed to pay $335 million in compensation for victims of the attacks that were carried out by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network while the militant leader was living in Sudan. The ministry said the money would be held in an escrow account till the US finalizes the restoration of Sudan’s sovereign immunity.

The State Department has notified Congress of the agreement, which it described as a “monumental win for victims of terrorism.”

It said the deal also included compensation settlement for victims of the deadly 2000 bombing of the USS Cole at Yemen’s southern port of Aden which killed 17 Marines, and for the killing of John Granville, an official with the US Agency for International Development, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum in 2008.

“The signing .. marks a critically important step toward achieving justice for the tragedy our families experienced,” said Edith L. Bartley, spokeswoman for the families of the Americans killed in the Kenya attack.

Bartley urged US Congress to “immediately” pass legislation needed to implement the settlement and release the money.

The US designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism dates back to the 1990s, when al-Bashir ruled Sudan and his government briefly hosted bin Laden and other wanted militants. Sudan was also believed to have served as a pipeline for Iran to supply weapons to Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

De-listing Sudan from the blacklist was part of the US administration’s efforts to have Sudan normalize its ties with Israel. Sudan has become the third Arab country — after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — to normalize ties with the Jewish state in the run-up to Election Day on November 3.

However, President Trump’s decision on Friday to extend the US national emergency regarding Sudan stirred up confusion and concern among Sudanese over American policy.

The US embassy in Khartoum on Saturday sought to reassure Sudanese, saying in a tweet that the decision “in no way impacts the removal of Sudan from the state sponsors of terrorism list.” It said the extension was meant to maintain UN sanctions related to the Darfur conflict.

Darfur has been gripped by bloodshed since 2003, when rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government, accusing it of misruling the region. The United Nations says 300,000 people have died in the conflict and 2.7 million have fled their homes.

Sudanese transitional authorities have promised to hold elections by 2022.

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