One of the key obstacles facing Sudan since the 1990s is being on the US State Sponsors of Terrorism list. This is a heavy burden for the present Sudanese government, being a main challenge in the path of political transition and the return to political and economic interaction with the regional and international communities. The Bill Clinton administration included Sudan to the terrorism blacklist in 1993 after the African country hosted Osama bin Laden, the founder of the pan-Islamic militant organization of Al-Qaeda, from 1992 to 1996.
As a result, Washington imposed several sanctions on Sudan that led to its political and economic isolation. After Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir was overthrown following nationwide protests, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok prioritized removing Sudan off the US State Sponsors of Terrorism list. Hamdok’s efforts may pay off soon.
Difficult US conditions
To negotiate removing Sudan off its terrorism blacklist, the US announced a number of conditions:
- Sudan’s local, regional and international cooperation in the field of combating terrorism, especially terrorist organizations’ activities.
- Sudan cuts off commercial and political ties with North Korea, in compliance with UN Security Council resolutions against North Korea.
- Sudan pays compensations to families of victims of the attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Al-Qaeda operatives conducted the attacks in 1998 at the time they had taken refuge in Sudan.
- Sudan reforms the political system, reinforces the path of political transition to democracy, and exerts more effort on the files of human rights and freedoms.
- Sudan stops all domestic violence and works towards achieving peace and stability in Darfur and other regions that witness armed conflicts between the Sudanese Armed Forces and liberation movements.
- Sudan works to deliver humanitarian aid to the areas affected by war, especially Darfur.
- Sudan accepts the US plans to achieve peace in the Middle East, including the gradual normalization of relations with Israel.
Lifting Sudan off the US terrorism list was conditional upon a US list of domestic and regional demands required of the salvation government of Al-Bashir. The US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy had emphasized that removing Sudan from the terrorist list “is not a decision, but rather a process.”
In line with the radical changes on the Sudanese stage, and in an effort to end the 30-year international isolation, the Sudan government adopted a series of procedures to emerge back on the international scene and improve its image, working on the conditions the US demanded in the terrorism file. Sudan embarked on a number of steps:
- Sudan issued a law to dismantle the former national salvation regime, that was the main reason why Sudan was added on the terrorism list. Article 5 of the law stipulates the establishment of a committee to dismantle the 30 June 1989 regime, which was the main obstacle in Sudanese-American relations.
- Sudan repealed a restrictive public order law, issued on 28 March 1996, that controlled how women acted and dressed in public. The law was criticised and rejected by Washington and many international organizations. Repealing this law is a step to strengthen the principles of human rights and consolidate rights and freedoms.
- Sudan signed an agreement with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to open a UN Human Rights Office in Khartoum on 25 September 2019.
- Sudan reached settlement with families of the victims of the US embassy bombings in 1998, and the victims of the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. Sudan will pay $335 million in settlements.
- Sudan launched a comprehensive and fair peace process, which was evident in the way Sudan dealt with the armed movements in conflict regions. On 31 August 2020, the Sudanese government signed a peace accord with armed groups in Juba.
- Sudan took many steps to combat terrorism. It ended the work of 25 organizations and institutions that used to be affiliated with the deposed president. Several meetings showed the cooperation between Sudan and the US in this regard. Hamdok held a number of meetings with Robert Karem, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security. He also met with the Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, Gina Haspel, during his participation in the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Another meeting was held in December 2019 between former Intelligence Chief Abu Bakr Mustafa and a number of CIA officials.
- Sudan’s new government opened up the path for humanitarian aid in areas of conflict. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director, David Beasley, visited Kauda in the Nuba Mountains region of South Kordofan, for the first time in eight years. This led to the gradual expansion of WFP humanitarian access to war-torn areas in Sudan estimated at $102 million.
- Sudan’s Sovereign Council took rapid steps to normalise relations with Israel. On 4 February 2020, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks with Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan, chairman of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, in the Ugandan city of Entebbe. Other preliminary consultations were conducted between Al-Burhan and an American delegation on 21 September 2020 in the UAE.
There are several preliminary positive indications regarding lifting Sudan off the US State Sponsors of Terrorism list, which were the result of Khartoum’s positive response to the US conditions.
The first positive indication appeared on 13 May when the US lifted Sudan off the list of Countries Certified as Not Cooperating Fully With US Counterterrorism Efforts. The move reflects Sudan’s diligent effort to close the terrorism file and is a critical procedure to get its name off the US terrorism blacklist.
Another positive indication is lifting all economic sanctions imposed on Sudan. The gradual lifting of sanctions began by the end of 2017, and they were finally removed on 4 March 2020. By the end of May 2020, Khartoum received a financial grant of $23 million to help Khartoum in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
The most important positive outcome was that Washington and Khartoum restored their diplomatic representation on the ambassadorial level. On 4 May 2020, Washington approved the appointment of Nur al-Din Sati as Sudan’s ambassador in Washington. The US State Department also announced its intention to appoint an ambassador in Sudan.
The move boosts diplomatic US-Sudan ties after they were restricted to representation on the level of chargés d’affaires for 23 years. It also establishes a new start for Sudan to cross the transitional phase, receive international support, and continue its important role in Africa.
In conclusion, the current Sudanese government has prioritized lifting the country off the US list of countries harbouring terrorism as a result of the negative repercussions of the sanctions on Sudan’s international political and economic relations.
Despite Sudan’s positive steps to fulfil the US conditions, it will not be removed from the US terrorism list unless it fulfils all the conditions, especially the one related to paying compensations to the families of the victims of terrorism, and gradually normalising relations with Israel. Only after fulfilling these conditions can Sudan be listed off the US terrorism list.
Sudan’s transitional government is in dire need of this step amid the country’s intolerable political and economic conditions.