The Trump Administration is trying to foster additional peace agreements between Israel and Arab states, particularly ahead of November’s US presidential election, and numerous sources say Sudan may be next in line.
Numerous news reports and statements indicate that Sudan is ready to follow the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain if Washington removes Khartoum from its list of countries sponsoring terrorism and provides significant economic aid, starting with an immediate grant of more than $3 billion.
A Sudanese delegation led by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the ruling Sovereignty Council, visited the UAE on Sunday for talks with American officials on several issues, including the removal of Sudan from the US terrorism list.
Sudan and the United States discussed how Khartoum could advance Arab-Israeli peace, officials said on Wednesday.
Khalil Abdul Jabbar, an Istanbul-based Sudanese journalist and political analyst, told The Media Line that with the US election approaching, the administration wanted to send the message that President Donald Trump was making peace in the Middle East. He was eager to use the fact that Sudan was in a terrible economic situation and wanted sanctions lifted to make a deal, Abdul Jabbar added.
“He’s targeting Sudan and Oman now; however, it’s not as simple as he would like it to be,” the journalist said.
Removing Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list may not be easy, because Congress has the power the block it, Abdul Jabbar said.
“In fact, some people in Congress are not keen on doing anything for Sudan until Khartoum has paid more than $300 million to victims of terror attacks that took place when [Omar] al-Bashir was president, although one of those attacks had nothing to do with Sudan,” he said. (Bashir was ousted in a coup d’état in April 2019.)
US courts ordered Khartoum to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to victims of the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, because in the 1990s, Khartoum hosted the terrorists who carried out the attacks.
Abdul Jabbar pointed out that Sudan suffered under a crushing $62 billion in foreign debt, entailing huge interest payments. “It’s a very difficult position for Sudan.”
He clarified that in any other situation, the Sudanese people would oppose normalization with Israel, but that it would mean that the leadership would gain favor in Washington and be able to improve the population’s standard of living. “I think that the main concern of most Sudanese people is to change their economic situation; there’s not so much about the principle of staying with the Palestinians and keeping the Israelis out.”
Abdul Jabbar elaborated, “But Sudan’s leadership doesn’t have the legitimacy under the transitional [government] arrangement to open normal relations with Israel. Therefore this issue will be put off until the end of the transitional period, which is going to take place around 2023, when an elected government could make that choice.”
He said that both on the Left and the Right, there was a lot of anger in Sudan about the desire to establish ties with Israel, but if that was the way out of the economic crisis, “most people are willing to let that go ahead.”
Abdul Jabbar added that Sudanese diplomats had not spoken out against the reports, or even against Israel’s agreements with the UAE and Bahrain.
On August 25, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Khartoum for several hours and discussed the possibility of removing Sudan from the US terrorism list and normalizing relations with Israel.
Pompeo pressured Sudan to make peace, but Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said that his government “does not have a mandate to take a decision on normalization with Israel.”
As a result of US economic, trade and financial sanctions on Sudan and its inclusion in the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, most foreign investment exited the country, leading to partial paralysis of the economy. The United States removed most economic sanctions on Sudan on October 7, 2017, two decades after imposing them in 1997 for the alleged harboring of terrorists.
Brian O’Toole, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Global Business and Economics Program and a former senior official in the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, told The Media Line that for Sudan, the terrorism label greatly undermined the effect of the US lifting of sanctions in early 2017.
“Since the Trump Administration seems willing to deal so long as countries recognize Israel ahead of the election, I would assume that both sides have incentive to get a deal that trades lifting of the SST [State Sponsor of Terrorism] label for recognition of Israel,” O’Toole said.
He explained that roadblocks to such an accord could include other benefits Sudan might seek, “perhaps including some sort of compensation for the harm caused by sanctions.”
Dr. Mansour El-Kikhia, a Libyan-American professor of political science and geography at the University of Texas at San Antonio, told The Media Line that “US pressure on Sudan, the birthplace of the Arab League, to sell out the Palestinians by signing a peace accord with Israel is well on its way.”
Talks between Khartoum and Washington ended with a promise that normalization would come very soon, he said.
“The US’s attempts at convincing Kuwait and Qatar as well as Saudi Arabia to follow in the footsteps of the UAE and Bahrain didn’t go very far, with [Riyadh] insisting on normalization only after the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza on the pre-1967 borders,” the professor said.
“Why Sudan?” he asked, adding that the explanation was quite simple: “Three factors are in play.”
El-Kikhia pointed that Sudan was in desperate economic straits and need more than $4 billion to overcome devastating floods and a weak economy that needed to be resuscitated with oil and food shipment from the US and the UAE. “With oil prices in the cellar, Sudan’s access to funds is difficult.”
Additionally, there was the compensation the US was demanding Khartoum pay to victims of terrorism or their relatives. “Normalization with Israel would hasten its removal from the list, along with some sort of accommodation on the compensation,” he said.
El-Kikhia further indicated that Sudan along with Egypt was locked in a bitter conflict with Ethiopia over the latter’s new Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile.
“The dam has reduced the volume of water that reaches Sudan from the river to a trickle and that in turn will have a devastating impact on Sudan’s economy. The US has supported Sudan’s position and is in the process of applying sanctions on Ethiopia. The quid pro quo is evident in this case: sign an accord with Israel and continue receiving US support in this issue. The US is angry at Ethiopia since it became the gateway for China’s new intrusion into Africa,” he said.
El-Kikhia added that the agreements with Israel had opened access to a segment of the US arms industry that had been blocked until now by the Israeli lobby in Washington.
“The tip of the iceberg is the [planned] sale [to the UAE] of the new, sophisticated F-35 stealth fighter, at a cost of $850 million apiece. The UAE-Israel accord said nothing about the Palestinians because the issue was never the Palestinians. Indeed, they are the down payment,” he said.
Debate within Sudan on the issue of normalization has been heated, after then-Foreign Ministry spokesman Haidar Badawi demanded on September 19 that al-Burhan tell the Sudanese people what was going on under the table with Israel.
“Respect your people and reveal to them what is going on in secret about the relationship with Israel,” Badawi said. He was fired for revealing that his country was seeking to establish relations with Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed al-Burhan’s words, saying they “reflect the courageous decision taken by the head of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, which called for work to strengthen relations between the two countries.”