Sudan not considering normalising ties with Israel before end of interim govt in 2022

Sudan's Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday that the country's i

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Sudan's Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday that the country's interim government was not mandated to normalise ties with Israel. 


"The Prime Minister clarified" to Pompeo "that the transitional period in Sudan is being led by a wide alliance with a specific agenda: to complete the transition, achieve peace and stability in the country, and hold free elections," Sudan's government spokesman Faisal Saleh said.

The post-Omar al-Bashir transitional government, whose term ends with elections in 2022, "does not have a mandate beyond these tasks or to decide on normalisation with Israel", Hamdok was quoted as telling Pompeo.

Hamdok also reaffirmed the importance of separating normalisation of ties from a US decision on removing Sudan's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, Faisal Saleh added.

Pompeo in Sudan aims to improve Israel-Arab ties

First American top diplomat to visit Sudan in 15 years

The declarations come as Pompeo visited Sudan on Tuesday on a tour urging more Arab countries to normalise ties with Israel, after the US-brokered Israel-UAE agreement.

Pompeo, the first American top diplomat to visit Sudan since Condoleezza Rice went in 2005, arrived on a historic "first official non-stop flight" from Tel Aviv, he tweeted from the plane.

Israel remains technically at war and has no formal diplomatic relations with Sudan, an East African country that for years supported hard-line Islamist forces under its former strongman Bashir.

Khartoum hopes Washington blacklist removal

But its new joint civilian-military transitional government has vowed to break with the Bashir era following his ouster last year amid enormous pro-democracy protests. 

Pompeo met Prime Minister Hamdok and Sovereign Council chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan for talks the US State Department had said would express US "support for deepening the Sudan-Israel relationship".

Sudan, which has launched sweeping social and political reforms, hopes Washington will soon take it off its blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism as it seeks to fully re-integrate into the international community.

Hamdok wrote on Twitter that he and Pompeo had a "direct & transparent conversation regarding delisting Sudan" from the terror list, on bilateral relations and US government support.

"I continue to look forward to positive tangible steps in supporting the glorious Sudanese revolution," wrote Hamdok.

Mixed messages

Both Sudan and Israel have already taken a series of steps to forge ties, despite some mixed messaging from Sudan.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Burhan in Uganda in February and later announced that the two leaders had agreed to cooperate towards normalising ties.

Sudan's cabinet later denied that Burhan had made such a promise, in a context where the topic of normalisation remains highly controversial in much of the Arab world.

'No mandate'

More recently, Sudan's foreign ministry spokesman Haider Badawi indicated Sudan could favour such an accord, but Foreign Minister Omar Qamareddin then said the issue had "never been discussed by the Sudanese government" and promptly fired the spokesman.

The coalition of parties and civil society groups that led the protest movement, the Forces of Freedom and Change, argued Tuesday that the government has "no mandate" to normalise ties with Israel, pointing to "the right of Palestinians to their land and to a free and dignified life".

Pompeo's regional trip, also taking in Bahrain and the UAE, comes in the wake of the landmark August 13 announcement of a normalisation of relations between the Emirates and the Jewish state. Speaking in Jerusalem on Monday, both Pompeo and Netanyahu said that they were hopeful that other Arab states would follow suit – in part to boost an alliance against their common arch foe Iran.

Sudan has been on Washington's state sponsors of terror list since 1993 because of its earlier support for and the presence of jihadists, including Osama bin Laden, who lived there for years in the 1990s before heading to Afghanistan.

While the US lifted a 20-year trade embargo against Sudan in October 2017, it kept the country on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, and Khartoum has been lobbying hard to have that designation lifted.

Sudan has been in talks on compensating victims of Bashir-era al Qaeda attacks, including the 2000 USS Cole bombing in Yemen and the simultaneous 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Huge economic pressures

The Pompeo visit comes as Sudan is in deep economic crisis, hit by the long years of US sanctions and the 2011 secession of the country's oil-rich south.

Grappling with high inflation and the coronavirus pandemic, the country badly needs more foreign assistance and investment, but that is constrained by the state sponsor of terror designation.

The United Nations says more than 9.6 million people – almost a quarter of Sudan's population – are suffering severe food insecurity.

Sudan is "extremely keen to have US sanctions lifted and they are under heavy UAE influence," said Cinzia Bianco, a research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Bashir to face genocide charges

While Bashir is on trial over the Islamist-backed coup that brought him to power over three decades ago, the new transitional government in Khartoum is at pains to distance itself from his legacy.

It has agreed in principle to hand Bashir over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for his role in the Darfur conflict on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

Conflict broke out in the Darfur region in 2003 when ethnic minority rebels staged an uprising against the government, citing marginalisation and discrimination. Khartoum responded by unleashing the feared Janjaweed militia, mainly recruited from Arab pastoralist tribes, in a scorched-earth campaign that left 300,000 people dead and displaced 2.5 million.

Hamdok has made finding a peace deal with rebel groups a priority, in order to bring stability to restive regions that also include Blue Nile and South Kordofan. 

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
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