Conflict Alerts # 180, 22 October 2020
In the news
On 19 October, the US President Donald Trump tweeted his decision to remove Sudan from its State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST). His tweet read: "New government of Sudan, which is making great progress, agreed to pay $335 million to US terror victims and families. Once deposited, I will lift Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. At long last, Justice for the American people and big step for Sudan!"
The announcement comes after months of negotiations between the transitional Sudanese government and the US administration to remove Sudan from Washington's list SST list.
In response to the tweet, Prime Minister of Sudan Abdalla Hamdok appreciated Trump's statement and said that the Sudanese authorities were looking forward to his "official notification to Congress rescinding the designation of Sudan as a state-sponsor of terrorism, which has cost Sudan too much." However, the US Congress needs to approve the decision after being formally notified by the President.
Issues at large
First, the de-list could pave the way for Sudan to be relieved of its debts. Being on the list has kept Sudan away from the much-required international investment, depriving them of hard currency required to sustain the economy with authorities have long struggled to contain the country's spiralling inflation. Last month, annual inflation rose to 212.29 per cent from 166.83 per cent in August, according to Sudan's Central Bureau of Statistics. The SST removal would help Sudan to be relieved of its debts under the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative.
Second, the uncertainty of whether Sudan is free of terror and terror links. The State Department and the Congress have remained sceptical of Sudan's terrorist links. Although Sudan's transitional government has recently taken measure to address the issue by negotiating and signing peace agreements with several armed groups, it remains uncertain if the transitional government has the capacity to control these radical groups.
Third, the complications in compensation. Sudan has insisted that it would hold the $335 million in victims' compensation in escrow until it receives legal immunity from Congress to protect itself from new financial claims for past terrorist attacks. However, it is not likely that Sudan will be able to hold this money, given its rampant poverty, rapidly-weakening economy and $60 billion in international debt. Further, the payment disparity between victims who were Americans at the time of the bombings and those who were not, has delayed the deal. Also it has created a divide in the Congress as well as between the victims and their lawyers.
Fourth, the Israel factor. Although not directly implied, for Trump, this move seems to be a part of his campaign to score a foreign policy goal amid the presidential election. He wants Sudan to become the next Arab state to recognize Israel. However, officials in Sudan's transitional government have been divided on whether to formalize diplomacy with Israel — a condition the Trump administration introduced at the 11th hour.
Trump's administration seems to be clear with what they want through their carefully orchestrated sequence probably intended to soften likely criticism of the Israel deal inside Sudan. However, they have done so while being insensitive to the challenges inside Sudan.
The Sudanese government, on the other hand, has been torn between a desire to get off the terrorism list as quickly as possible, hoping to bolster its faltering economy, and fears that recognition of Israel could prompt political instability and collapse the country's fragile democratic transition. Further, this is not a done deal, as a major portion of the success of this deal remains with the US Congress.