US Jettisons Sudan From Sponsor-of-Terror Blacklist

President Donald Trump reacts after hanging up a phone call with Sudan’s leader on Oct. 23 about normalizing ties with Israel. Those surrounding Trump include Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, second from left, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, national security adviser Robert O’Brien. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(CN) — The Trump administration took Sudan off a federal terrorism blacklist Monday, less than two months after the country agreed to normalize its relations with Israel. 

One of the U.S. government’s most powerful and effective sanction tools, the “state sponsors of terrorism” designation was created in 1979 to punish nations that support terrorist acts. It blacklists countries on it from taking part in almost all nonhumanitarian transactions with the U.S. 

The announcement that Sudan would be taken off the list — which now only consists of Iran, North Korea and Syria — was made in a post on Facebook Monday.

“The congressional notification period of 45 days has lapsed and the Secretary of State has signed a notification stating rescission of Sudan’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation,” the U.S. embassy in Khartoum wrote, noting the measure will be published in the Federal Register.

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok welcomed the move, which will allow the African country to get international loans needed to revive its economy

“After more than two decades, I declare to our people that the name of our beloved country has been removed from the state sponsors of terror list,” he tweeted. “Today we return with all our history, the civilization of our people, the greatness of our country and the vigor of our revolution to the international community.”

Hamdok and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both called Monday a “historic day” for the countries’ relations in another thread.

“I congratulate [Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok] and the Sudanese people and look forward to building a stronger U.S.-Sudanese partnership,” Pompeo said.

Sudan’s removal also came at the cost of $335 million, the amount the country will pay to victims of two 1998 al-Qaida attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa, as well as victims of the 2000 bombing of the guided missile destroyer the U.S.S. Cole while it was off the coast of Yemen. 

The price was finalized after the Supreme Court found in May 2020 that Sudan owed more than $10 billion in punitive damages to victims for sponsoring the 1998 embassy bombings, which were conducted by Osama bin Laden while he was living in Sudan. The United States first deemed Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 for briefly hosting bin Laden and other wanted militants. 

It was President Barack Obama’s administration that first began an effort to repair relations with Sudan in January 2017. The Trump administration took up negotiations to remove Sudan from the list following the 2019 uprising of a Sudanese military-civilian group that has ruled the country since overthrowing Sudan’s military overthrew the country’s autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir in favor of a democratic system that year. 

“The CLTG [Civilian-Led Transitional Government] is committed to reflect the values of our nation by contributing to regional & global stability & prosperity,” Hamdok tweeted Monday.

The group hopes to hold democratic elections in late 2022.

Sudan’s removal from the blacklist has not been welcomed by all, however.

“This is a big important country going through a delicate & challenging transition,” said Ilan Goldenberg, Middle East security director at the Center for a New American Security, a bipartisan nonprofit that looks into U.S. security and defense policies. “In that moment, to make our first priority Israel-Sudan normalization and to withhold access to international financial markets unless Sudan normalized with Israel misplaces priorities.”

Goldenberg maintained in a 14-point Twitter post this morning that the U.S. should have been helping Sudan establish a new democratic government, instead of making its relations with Israel a first priority.

“I also don’t like using the State sponsor of terrorism designation as political leverage for something entirely unrelated when Sudan is no longer a state sponsor of terrorism. It politicizes the process (though in fairness it’s already quite politicized),” he wrote.

Omar Baddar, the former deputy director of the Arab American Institute, also criticized Trump for using U.S. power to normalize “his friends’ illegal acquisition of land by force.”

“Sudan was offered a path out of threats, suffocation & isolation in exchange for normalization,” he tweeted.

Trump informed Congress of the move in October,in the final weeks before Election Day, hoping to capitalize on the hand he played in getting Sudan, as well as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to recognize Israel. 

Sudan is expected to be the third Arab state to normalize relations with the Jewish state during Trump’s tenure, although it has yet to agree a formal deal.

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