WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – Israel and Sudan agreed on Friday (Oct 23) to take steps to normalise relations in a deal brokered with the help of the United States, making Khartoum the third Arab government to set aside hostilities with Israel in the last two months.
US President Donald Trump, seeking re-election on Nov 3, sealed the agreement in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Transitional Council Head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, senior US officials said.
Trump’s decision earlier this week to remove Sudan from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism paved the way for the deal with Israel, marking a foreign policy achievement for the Republican president as he seeks a second term trailing in opinion polls behind Democratic rival Joe Biden.
“The leaders agreed to the normalisation of relations between Sudan and Israel and to end the state of belligerence between their nations,” according to a joint statement issued by the three countries.
Israel and Sudan plan to begin by opening economic and trade relations, with an initial focus on agriculture, the joint statement said. A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said such issues as formal establishment of diplomatic ties would be resolved later.
Trump announced on Monday he would take Sudan off the terrorism list once it had deposited US$335 million it had pledged to pay in compensation. Khartoum has since placed the funds in a special escrow account for victims of al-Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
Shortly before the Israel-Sudan deal was announced, Trump notified Congress of “his intent to formally rescind Sudan’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”
The White House called the move a “pivotal turning point” for Khartoum, which is seeking to emerge from decades of isolation.
Trump’s aides have been pressing Sudan to take steps toward normalising relations with Israel, following similar US-brokered moves in recent weeks by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
A sticking point in the negotiations was Sudan’s insistence that any announcement of Khartoum’s delisting from the terrorism designation not be explicitly linked to establishing ties with Israel.
The military and civilian leaders of Sudan’s transitional government have been divided over how fast and how far to go in establishing ties with Israel.
Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism dates to its toppled ruler Omar al-Bashir and has made it difficult for its transitional government to access urgently needed debt relief and foreign financing.
Many in Sudan say the designation, imposed in 1993 because Washington believed Bashir was supporting militant groups, has become outdated since he was removed last year.
US congressional legislation is needed to shield Khartoum from future legal claims over past attacks to ensure the flow of payments to the embassy bombing victims and their families.