The US has removed Sudan from the state sponsor of terrorism list, a move that is set to help the African country access debt relief, multilateral lending and western investment for its battered economy.
“The Secretary of State has signed a notification stating rescission of Sudan’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation is effective as of today (December 14), to be published in the Federal Register,” the US embassy in Khartoum said in a statement on Monday.
General Abdel Fattah Burhan, the military head of Sudan’s hybrid military-civilian transitional government, who met US secretary of state Mike Pompeo earlier this year in Khartoum, tweeted: “Greetings and congratulations to the Sudanese people on the occasion of Sudan’s exit from the list of states sponsoring terrorism”.
The US put Sudan on the list of state sponsors in 1993 when then president Omar al-Bashir’s regime was hosting Osama bin Laden in Khartoum. The northeastern African state, devastated by years of mismanagement, civil war and corruption, was cut off from the international finance system.
Sudan, which overthrew the 30-year dictatorship of Mr Bashir last year after protests triggered by a rise in food and fuel prices, had urged the US to remove it from the list. But Washington first wanted Khartoum to pay compensation to victims of alleged Sudanese-sponsored terrorism.
In April, Sudan agreed to pay compensation to the families of US sailors killed on the USS Cole in a 2000 attack in Aden.
In October, US president Donald Trump signed an executive order to remove Sudan from the terror blacklist after Khartoum agreed to pay $335m to the families of the victims of the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings outside US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Congress had 45 days to object to the order, which expired this week. The executive order was widely seen as a precursor to Sudan normalising ties with Israel.
With Monday’s announcement, sanctions on Sudan should now be lifted. Without US backing, Sudan has been unable to write off $60bn in past debts or access new multilateral lending or western investment for its economy, which is forecast to shrink 8.4 per cent this year.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok — who leads a military-civilian interim government and inherited an economy on the ropes — previously said US sanctions stemming from Sudan’s terrorism status were “crippling our economy”. Strapped of hard currency, on the back of a sharp devaluation, inflation rocketed to 254 per cent last month, one of the world’s fastest rates after Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Days-long queues outside petrol stations and breadlines have worsened this year.
Sudan, which as part of widespread reforms in the wake of last year’s revolution separated religion from state, is also expected to regain sovereign immunity from prosecution this week.
But the legislation that restores Sudanese immunity from terrorism lawsuits first needs to pass Congress. Democratic Senators believe the Trump administration has overcommitted to Khartoum. Under the current deal, the families of September 11 victims would no longer be able to pursue claims against Sudan for alleged complicity, congressional insiders say.
“We strongly support a successful transition to democracy in Sudan; making this deal work for victims of terrorism should not be in conflict with that goal,” Democratic senators Bob Menendez and Chuck Schumer said in a statement last week, after they proposed amendments to the agreement.
Officials in Khartoum want full immunity from such claims. “This is unjust,” said a senior Sudanese official, albeit adding: “restoring our sovereign immunity is also important, but removing Sudan from the [terror] list is more important. It is a big thing.”