US revokes Sudan's terrorist designation after 27 years
Delisting follows revival of ties with Washington under new leadership in Khartoum
The US formally lifted Sudan's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism after 27 years, the American embassy in Khartoum announced on Monday.
The designation isolated the country and deepened its economic woes by denying it essential services and commodities on world markets.
But while the benefits of removal from the list are seemingly endless, none will come overnight.
Sudan’s transition to democratic rule after last year’s removal of dictator Omar Al Bashir is becoming increasingly problematic.
The government’s civilian and military partners clash over policy, threatening to derail the process and plunge Sudan into the chaos and strife that defined most of its 64 years since independence.
“The Secretary of State has signed a notification stating rescission of Sudan’s state sponsor of terrorism designation is effective as of today,” the US embassy in Khartoum said.
The move came after a 45-day Congressional review period that followed President Donald Trump’s October 23 declaration of his intention to remove Sudan from the list.
That was quickly followed by Sudan and Israel saying they had agreed to normalise relations.
“After three decades of global isolation, Sudan officially rejoins the international community as a peaceful nation supporting global stability,” Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok tweeted on Monday.
“This achievement comes with numerous opportunities for Sudan’s development and we thank everyone involved in making this happen.”
The government recently released a video online, listing the benefits to be gained from Sudan’s removal from the list.
It included importing essential medical equipment, support in the battle against the coronavirus epidemic and readmission of local banks into the international financial system.
Also on the list were allowing the flow of remittances from Sudanese expatriates through official channels, rescheduling Sudan’s $60 billion foreign debt and rehabilitating the crumbling railway network and official air carrier.
But these benefits may take months, maybe even years, to materialise.
The US designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 over the links between Al Bashir’s government and militant Islamic groups, including Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas.
The designation has had a far-reaching effect on Sudan, blocking financing or debt relief by donors and international finance agencies, impeding dollar transactions for businesses and placing obstacles on the import of goods.
US trade sanctions were lifted in 2017 but foreign investment remains scarce and banks are reluctant to do business in Sudan.
However, the time it would take for any of the expected benefits to materialise could be sped up if Sudan were granted sovereign immunity, for which a Congressional legislation is needed.
To pave the way for the delisting, Sudan agreed to pay $335 million for survivors and victims' families from the 1998 attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by Al Qaeda, when Al Bashir was hosting the terrorist group, and a 2000 attack on the USS Cole off Yemen's coast.
But the money would only be released when Khartoum is assured of immunity.
Two US senators who say they are concerned that future claims might be made by victims of the September 11 attacks are blocking the legislation, although Sudan’s involvement in those attacks is questionable.
The official removal of Sudan from the terrorism list, on which Syria, Iran and North Korea remain, comes as tension is rising between the generals who removed Al Bashir in April 2019 and the pro-democracy movement that ran street protests that led to his removal.
The latest quarrel between the two sides is over the formation and mandate of a 29-member council during the transitional period, which ends in 2022.
Mr Hamdok said the powers given to the council encroached on the mandate of the executive and a future 300-seat legislature.
Others said it was a power grab meant to give the generals a dominant role in shaping the transitional period and beyond.
The country’s top general and effective head of state, Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, was not moved by the criticism.
Gen Al Burhan told army cadets last week that the details of the proposed council were agreed on with representatives of the pro-democracy movement and the Cabinet.
The two sides have disagreed publicly on what civilians in the administration see as the military’s secretive ways in dealing with foreign policy issues such as normalising ties with Israel.
The also have differences over the taxation of the military’s vast economic interests and growing street violence in major cities.
Sudan’s post-independence years have seen the nation of 40 million regularly shift from freely elected governments to military dictatorships.
The resulting instability has contributed to a series of civil wars that have fatigued the nation and swallowed its resources.
But US-trained political scientist Jihad Ouda said Sudan was unlikely to fall back into the abyss of hopelessness of Al Bashir's reign.
“It will this time receive the international sponsorship it needs,” said Mr Ouda, who lectures at Cairo’s Helwan University.
“But the next six or 12 months will not see anything drastic happening or witness a turning point as a result of its removal from the terrorism list.”
Updated: December 15, 2020 11:49 AM