US Congress plays hardball with Sudan amid compensation claims that are linked with the country establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.
Sudan has warned that the fragile normalisation deal with Israel could fall apart if the US Congress does not pass legislation shielding the country from future lawsuits from past victims of terror attacks.
When in late October Sudan agreed to become the third Arab country following the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to join the so-called Abraham Accords and establish diplomatic relations with Israel, the deal became hugely unpopular among the country’s citizens who still support the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation.
The risk that the deal, which was announced by President Donald Trump, could collapse in less than two months, underscores the transactional nature in which the current US administration has stitched together a fragile peace between some Arab countries and Israel.
When Sudan agreed to normalise relations with Israel, it sought removal from the US State Department's list of so-called state sponsors of terrorism. The designation was slapped on the country in 1993 alongside Iran, Cuba and Syria.
As a result, Sudan could not access emergency finance from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or any other institution linked with the US financial system or that used dollars.
Sudan’s economy, as a result, has severely deteriorated because of sanctions imposed by the US, as well as the economic mismanagement of its former leader, Omar al Bashir, who was toppled from power in 2019.
Since a revolt in 2019 which ended Bashir’s 30-year rule in Sudan, the transitional government has attempted to re-establish its presence on the international scene.
Soaring inflation and massive debt in the country has made opening up a necessity. That has meant that the country’s transitional government agreed to pay $335 million to compensate victims of the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, a guided missile destroyer of the US.
For an average Sudanese person, who had no control or say on what the Bashir government did, the settlement deal was a bitter pill to swallow.
Part of the deal towards normalisation meant an agreement to also establish ties with Israel.
The de-facto transitional leader of Sudan, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has reportedly told the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the US Congress has until the end of the year to pass legislation shielding the country against future lawsuits. This could sap billions from Sudan and result in the country going through a maze of US appeal courts.
There is a fear the incoming Biden administration may not prioritise the settlement reached by Trump’s team - this would leave Sudan with little leverage.
Already, Israel has wasted no time in trying to fortify relations with Sudan. It recently sent a delegation there, however, Khartoum is wary of moving too fast and getting little in return.
Sudan’s announcement that relations with Israel could be in jeopardy, is probably a sign that it is also trying to push Israel with its significant lobbying power in American politics to ensure that Khartoum’s concerns are heard and the legislation is passed.
The impasse amongst US legislators is that victims of past attacks, that may have originated from Sudan, will not receive compensation.
It’s not clear whether the standoff is because the US wants to receive more money from Sudan and therefore is using the leverage it has to do so. Equally, Sudan is using anonymous leaks to outline that its opening up to Israel depends on whether it is protected against lawsuits.