US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in a race against time to resolve his country’s dispute with Sudan, weeks before the US presidential elections are scheduled to take place.
As is so often the case when it comes to US diplomacy, Israel is not far from Trump’s ulterior motives.
“The United States has a one-time opportunity to ensure that compensation is finally provided to the victims of the 1998 terrorist attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda against the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania,” Pompeo wrote in a letter to senators.
He added: “We also have a unique and narrow window to support the civilian-led transitional government in Sudan that has finally rid itself of the Islamist dictatorship.”
The core issue related to this file is the inclusion of Sudan on the US blacklist of countries sponsoring terrorism.
This punishment, which led to hindering investments in the northeast African country, dates back to 1993. The crisis worsened with the 1998 attacks, which resulted in the deaths of more than 200 people.
At that time, when Omar Al-Bashir, who was accused of providing sanctuary to Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden for years, was still president, the US treated Sudan as a pariah.
In recent years, however, Washington changed its mind when Al-Bashir started cooperating with the US administration in the fight against terrorism and agreed to the independence of South Sudan.
The former Democratic US President Barack Obama, and then his Republican successor, made sure to reconnect with Khartoum. Even before the fall of Al-Bashir, the US engaged in a dialogue to remove Sudan from its blacklist.
The popular uprising that toppled the former Sudanese regime in the spring of 2019 accelerated the aforementioned diplomatic initiative, as Pompeo did not spare any effort to support Head of the transitional government Abdalla Hamdok.
However, negotiations have stumbled over the thorny lawsuit of compensation payments to the families of the victims of the 1998 attacks.
A US State Department spokeswoman disclosed that the secretary of state now believes that there is a solution in sight, and has made this file “one of his main priorities”.
Pompeo’s plan stipulates that Khartoum deposits the funds in a blocked account, which will only be paid to the US to compensate the plaintiffs. US media reported that the total amount of payments is $335 million.
As a condition, the understanding requires the removal of Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism and the adoption of a bill proclaiming legal peace with Khartoum, to avoid the risk of new prosecutions in the future.
In his letter, Pompeo pressured the US Congress to vote on this provision.
He explained: “This law must come into force in mid-October at the latest to ensure that the compensation money paid to the victims as soon as Sudan is removed from the list of states sponsoring terrorism.”
This clearly indicates that Trump’s administration is ready to lift the symbolic punishment of Sudan before the presidential elections on 3 November.
Senators of all affiliations declared their support for Pompeo’s request. However, there are concerns within the US administration over a potential resistance to this project from influential Democrats.
But why such eagerness on the part of a US secretary of state who has shown no interest in the African continent prior to this?
It is likely that there is another important file for Trump’s administration hiding behind this one.
Pompeo went to Khartoum in late August on the first visit of a US secretary of state in 15 years, during a tour to persuade Arab countries to normalise relations with Israel.
The camp of the Republican presidential candidate intends to benefit from the two historic agreements signed during his mandate between Israel, on the one hand, and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on the other, which is considered as an achievement that was lacking on his diplomatic record. The more supportive Trump’s agenda becomes of Israeli interests, the more likely it will motivate evangelical voters.
Hamdok apparently dashed US hopes when he asserted that his government “does not have a mandate” to take a decision on this sensitive issue. But according to several observers, the talks are continuing behind the scenes.