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Sudan’s foreign policy is in question following the revelation of secret talks with Israel

August 21, 2020 at 5:02 am

Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Haidar Badawi al-Sadiq holds a news conference at ministry building in Khartoum, Sudan on August 18, 2020 [Mahmoud Hjaj – Anadolu Agency]

The bizarre sacking of the Foreign Ministry spokesman after publicly admitting Sudan was considering normalising relations with Israel, signalled the weakening of Sudan’s negotiating position with the US and the international community. The blunder was not just the admission of ongoing secret talks with the Zionist state, but it was the admission that Sudan “had no reason to continue hostility” with Israel that suggested a normalisation deal was close to being finalised.

The unauthorised comments by Spokesman Haidar Badawi followed the United Arab Emirates (UAE) establishing full diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv, only the third Arab nation to do so after Egypt and Jordan -a move that promoted the Palestinians to describe the agreement as a “betrayal” of its cause. Badawi’s remarks prompted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to issue the instruction to “do all that’s needed” to wrap up a deal.

So far, Sudan has done almost all it can to deliver on everything it has been asked. It has agreed to pay $30 million in compensation to the victims of USS Cole, a guided missile destroyer of the US Navy that was bombed in Yemen’s Aden harbour when some 17 US navy sailors were killed and 39 injured. Sudan paid the money, while denying involvement in the attack. “We have agreed to pay this compensation in order to serve the higher interest of Sudan,” a ministry spokesman affirmed at the time.

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Sudan has also agreed a $335 million settlement for the victims of the Tanzania and Nairobi US embassybombings, although a US court has asked the country to pay $4.3 billion. In addition, Sudan has reached an agreement with the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) staff to make structural reforms to its economy to reduce its $1.3 billion debt and make way for new investments. Sudan’s fiscal adjustments and the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in a 145 per cent inflation and a 70 per cent devaluation of its currency against the US dollar on the black market, not to mention the loss of more than 800 people to the virus.

In addition to the changes to its laws, such as removing the death penalty for homosexuality, allowing non-Muslims to drink alcohol, banning female circumcision (also known as female genital mutilation)and repealing discriminatory laws against women, Sudan has little else left to give in exchange for the USelusive promise to remove the current economic sanctions as well as the country from the listing of states sponsoring terror.

Last week’s highly publicised jubilant telephone conversation between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was supposed to be the prelude to some good news that would be announced almost immediately. The news that the US is sanctioning individuals who are undermining the Transitional Government or impeding the progress of the Sudan interim government was also welcome. However, the US policy announcement is somewhat ironic given the greatest impediment to Sudan’s success has for some time been the US itself.

Whilst it was unreasonable for Sudan to expect sanctions to be lifted on the day that former President of Sudan Omar Al-Bashir was overthrown on 11 April, 2019, or even on the signing of the agreement between the army and the protest movement on 17 August, it is plainly inconceivable that Sudan’s new government could have done any more to court Western favour.

For some, Sudan’s negotiations directly with Israel will continue to be unpalatable, particularly the religious right-wing in Sudan who stand in solidarity with the Palestinians. The Sudanese joke that they do not object to government talks with “Iblis” himself (the devil) if it signalled an improvement in thecurrent economic difficulties.

Last weekend’s protests that were organised by residential committees and the Sudanese Professional Association were broken up by tear gas. The demonstrators called on the government to speed up the reform process, replace some of the newly-appointed civilian governors and complete the peace process with rebel groups. However, as the government supporters begin to splinter and disintegrate with key groups withdrawing from the Forces for Freedom and Change umbrella, the pace of change is set to slow down, or at best, stay the same.

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Sudan’s goodwill foreign policy appears to be in tatters as the Acting Foreign Minister Omer Gamarudden Ismail stated that the government was “astonished” by the statement from Spokesman Badawi. He claimed that Sudan and Israel have not been discussed within the Foreign Ministry at all. “No one tasked Badawi with making statements on this matter,” he conveyed.

For all its efforts, Sudan continues to receive pledges of support and glowing praise with tangible guarantees in return from the US and the international community. Observers find it difficult to quantify just how the President of the Sovereign Council Abdul-Fatah Al Burhan’s meeting with the Israeli PM benefited Sudan in February of this year.

Seven months later, after communal clashes killed almost 40 people in Port Sudan and more than 30 people in Darfur, there is little for Sudan to celebrate a year after the transitional agreement was signed. Civil disobedience in Kassala rambled on for days after objection to the appointment of the civilian governor, and combined with the delay in the signing of the peace agreement, both have led to renewed clashes between rebel groups and the Sudan Armed Forces in the South Kordofan region earlier this month.

Some Sudanese social media forums have appealed to the army to take control and declare early elections. If by some miracle the US does lift the sanctions or Tel Aviv opens an embassy in Khartoum, itwill no doubt be in spite of, rather than because of, Sudan’s foreign policy. In any case, the price the Sudanese people would have paid may well be incalculable.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.