Pompeo seeks Sudan breakthrough earlier than US presidential election | Center East
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wants to achieve a breakthrough with Sudan, which he hopes could also benefit Israel, weeks before the US presidential election.
The new civilian-led government of Sudan is desperate to be removed from the US blacklist of “state sponsors of terrorism” and is seen by Washington as open to becoming the youngest Arab state to recognize Israel – an important reason for President Donald Trump’s electoral base.
“The United States has a unique opportunity to ensure that victims of the 1998 al-Qaeda-backed terrorist attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania are finally compensated,” Pompeo wrote in a letter to the senators, which was confirmed by Congress sources the AFP news agency reported on Wednesday.
“We also have a unique and narrow window to support the civilian-led interim government in Sudan, which has finally freed itself from the Islamist dictatorship that led this country before.”
Sudan is one of four nations that are listed by the US as a “state sponsor of terrorism” and are severely hampering investments as companies worry about legal risks in dealing with the country.
The name comes from 1993, when the then strong man Omar al-Bashir greeted armed fighters, including Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda, who carried out the embassy attacks that killed more than 200 people.
Washington had gradually reconciled with al-Bashir, who agreed to the independence of the mostly Christian South Sudan.
But Sudan changed last year when al-Bashir was ousted after a wave of youth protests. UK-trained economist Abdalla Hamdok is the new Prime Minister with a reformist mandate in a transitional agreement with the military.
The removal of Sudan from the list was halted by a dispute over a package of approximately $ 335 million that Khartoum would pay in compensation for the families of the victims and the survivors of the embassy attacks.
Filling out a compensation package “is one of the highest priorities for the State Department,” a US spokesman told AFP.
In his letter, Pompeo said it was “very likely” that an agreement on claims and the removal of Sudan from the terror blacklist would be finalized by the end of October, days before the November 3 elections.
The US Congress must also pass laws to protect Sudan from further claims.
Senate Democrats are divided in part because the draft package would bring US citizens more money than Africans, who made up the majority of the victims – an arrangement some describe as discriminatory but others as realistic and in line with precedent.
Some U.S. lawmakers also want further discussion on compensation for other al-Qaeda attacks, notably the bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen in 2000.
Sudan has indicated readiness to deal with Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Khartoum General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Uganda in February.
Pompeo stopped briefly in Khartoum in late August on the first visit by a US Secretary of State in 15 years.
Hamdok said at his meeting with Pompeo that his interim government, set to rule until the elections in 2022, did not have a mandate to normalize relations with Israel.
However, some observers believe there may still be moves forward on the deal with Israel, particularly on the prospect of being blacklisted from US terrorists.
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recently became the youngest Arab states to recognize Israel, which Trump has touted as foreign policy victories.