Sudan will be off the US list of terrorism sponsors. It’s a quid pro quo and contentious

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL October 21, 2020

There is an intensely transactional feel to President Trump’s announcement that Sudan will be removed from the State Department’s state sponsors of terrorism list.

Mr Trump appears to have decided this in exchange for two things from the Sudanese government:

That it pay $335 million in compensation for families of American victims of terrorism.

And that Sudan normalise relations with Israel.

On October 19, Sudanese sources were being quoted to say the Sudanese government planned, with speed and expediency, to transfer the money to a designated account set up for the compensation fund. Soon after it does what’s required of it by Mr Trump, the US president is expected to sign an executive order ending the 27-year ignominy of Sudan’s placement on the state sponsors of terrorism list.

This transactional arrangement – pay me to white-out the black mark against you – doesn’t address several questions.

The Trump administration did not take Sudan off the terrorism state-sponsor list in 2017 even though American economic sanctions were lifted that year. Accordingly, it’s fair to ask if Sudan was no longer really considered a state sponsor of terrorism by 2017? Was it kept on the list because it was convenient for Mr Trump to dangle possible removal from it in exchange for a payout by Sudan, both in cash and kind? (The latter would be the normalisation of relations with Israel, which Mr Trump may think helpful with the Jewish vote in swing states.)

Adding the Israeli issue to the mix is a contentious issue in Sudan, with its transitional government divided on the wisdom of such a move. Sudan’s top general, Abdel Fattah Al Burhan is supporting it; Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok isn’t that keen and has asked for $3 billion in aid as a sweetener. There’s the second bit of the transactional deal.

Mr Trump’s response has been to promise an aid package in concert with the UAE. And that’s the third transactional element.