Trump announces opening of relations between Sudan and Israel


President Trump on Friday announced an opening of relations between Sudan and Israel, building upon a breakthrough of diplomatic ties between the Jewish state and Gulf Arab nations that have traditionally shunned Israel over its conflict with the Palestinians.

“HUGE win today for the United States and for peace in the world. Sudan has agreed to a peace and normalization agreement with Israel!” the president wrote on Twitter. “With the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, that’s THREE Arab countries to have done so in only a matter of weeks. More will follow!"

Trump has promised that “five or six” countries would open relations with Israel following the establishment of diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and endorsed last month with the signing of the Abraham Accords.

Trump held a joint phone call from the Oval Office with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Sudan’s Chairman of the Sovereignty Council General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

"The State of Israel and the Republic of Sudan, have agreed to make peace," he said.

He was joined by his son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnunchin and national security adviser Robert O’Brien, among others. 

The announcement follows Trump’s notice to Congress on Friday that he intends to remove Sudan from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, following Khartoum’s delivery of $335 million into an escrow account to compensate American victims of terrorism following over a year of negotiations with Khartoum. 

It's unclear when that amount will be accessible to the victims of the 1998 twin embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the victims from the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen. The negotiated amount has been rejected by the majority of the embassy victims.

Sudan’s recognition of Israel holds important symbolic significance of the shifting attitudes towards Jerusalem among the Arab and Muslim world, and provides a foreign policy win for the president less than two weeks before Election Day. In 1967, Khartoum was the location of the Arab League meeting that declared in a resolution the historic “three no’s” on Israel — no peace, no negotiations and no recognition. 

Sudan’s initial placement on the State Sponsor of Terrorism List in 1993 was related to the government of Omar al-Bashir’s support for Palestinian and shi’a terrorist groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah. Bashir’s government was further sanctioned for its support of Al Qaeda, which carried out the twin embassy bombings and the Cole attack. 

Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer congratulated Sudan on Friday by referencing the 1967 resolution. 

“From 3 NO’s to 3 YES’s: In 1967, the Arab world infamously declared in Sudan’s capital no recognition, no negotiation, and no peace with Israel. Today, Sudan joins the UAE and Bahrain as the 3rd Arab country to make peace with Israel in 2020,” he wrote on Twitter. 

Khartoum is in the midst of an historic transition to democracy, following a grassroots revolution last year that overthrew the 30-year Bashir dictatorship and instituted a transitional civilian-military government that has the backing of the U.S. 

Sources familiar with the negotiations say that Sudan agreed to recognize Israel following promises by the Trump administration to deliver significant humanitarian assistance, including food, medicine and debt relief, and “considerable investments” from the American private sector.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said that Sudan’s transitional government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with General Electric last week on new projects for power and health care. 

“It’s a welcome sign that the relationship between our two countries is advancing,” Pompeo said in a briefing with reporters. 

A companion package of assistance by the United Arab Emirates, with considerable financial and humanitarian assistance, is also being included in the negotiations as part of the incentives for opening relations with Israel, sources said.  

The Middle East Monitor reported on Thursday that Sudan borrowed from Saudi Arabia the $335 million to compensate American victims of terrorism as part of efforts to push Khartoum to recognize Jerusalem.

Sudan’s transitional civilian-military government is buckling under crippling debt and overwhelming public dissatisfaction. The country's access to international markets and debt relief rests on the U.S. rescission of the terrorism designation. 

Trump’s notice to Congress on Friday, occurring moments before the diplomatic announcement, starts a 45-day countdown where lawmakers have an opportunity to block the president’s move to delist Sudan from the terrorism list.

Sudan’s prime minister welcomed Trump’s notice to Congress, writing on Twitter that Khartoum is “working closely with the U.S. administration and Congress to conclude the [State Sponsor of Terrorism List] renoval process in a timely manner.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are supportive of Sudan’s transitional government and are unlikely to block the removal of Sudan’s terrorism designation. But the Trump administration is insisting Congress pass legislation shielding Sudan from any other terrorist related claims and at Khartoum’s request. 

“It is essential that Congress act now to pass the legislation required to ensure that the American people rapidly realize the full benefits of this policy breakthrough,” the White House said in its statement.

That effort is opposed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who are concerned that such legislation would harm victims and families of victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, who have lawsuits from 2002 and 2004 they say Khartoum has ignored.

The majority of the embassy bombing victims oppose the administration’s $335 million settlement with Sudan, saying they were left out of negotiations for the amount and that the proposed deal would give American victims significantly higher payouts than foreign nationals employed by the U.S. who were killed or injured in the attacks.

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