Trump administration presses Sudan on Israel normalisation before US election day

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (Reuters)

Bryant Harris

The National  /  October 23, 2020

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raises issue with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The US administration is continuing to lobby Sudan to normalise ties with Israel as President Donald Trump trails in polls behind Democratic opponent Joe Biden, less than two weeks before election day.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the issue with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in a call on Thursday.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Mr Pompeo praised Mr Hamdok’s efforts to “improve Sudan’s relationship with Israel and expressed hope that they would continue”.

An Israeli delegation had arrived in Sudan to discuss normalising relations, Israeli media reported on Wednesday.

Agreement thought to be close

Israel is “very close to normalising ties with Sudan”, Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Channel 13 News.

Israeli Regional Co-operation Minister Ofir Akunis said he had “a reasonable basis to believe” that a normalisation announcement would be made before US election day on November 3.

Mr Pompeo visited Sudan in August, when he pressed Mr Hamdok on the issue. The visit was documented by The National in this video.

Mr Hamdok and other Sudanese officials had expressed scepticism over any such agreement with Israel, but Washington announced a deal this week to take Sudan off its terrorism blacklist.

Mr Trump announced Monday that the US would take Sudan off its state sponsor of terrorism list after Khartoum made a $335 million deposit for victims of past terrorist attacks, and their families.

The money will compensate the families of victims from the 1998 Al Qaeda attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen.

Sudan’s former government under Omar Al Bashir harboured Al Qaeda members complicit in the bombings but the Sudanese military removed him from power last year after mass protests.

Khartoum’s inclusion on the list prevents it from receiving foreign assistance as the country grapples with a democratic transition, the Covid-19 pandemic and an economic crisis.

The push to get Sudan to normalise ties comes after the UAE, Bahrain and Israel signed the Abraham Accords at the White House last month.

A US delegation accompanied Emirati officials to Israel this week to sign follow-up deals, including visa-free travel between the two countries and a pipeline that would carry oil from the Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.

“The State Department, Secretary Pompeo, the administration are very supportive of states taking bold and brave steps to enhance their ties with Israel,” assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, David Schenker said on Thursday.

“We think that there’s a positive trajectory in the region and I look forward to more states signing on.”

The UAE signed the Abraham Accord with Israel at the White House on September 15.

As part of the accord, Israel pledged to suspend annexation of Palestinian land.

Since the signing, the UAE has consistently reaffirmed its support for a separate Palestinian state.

Mr Schenker recently returned from a regional tour that included stops in Lebanon, Morocco and the UK.’

Bryant Harris reports on US foreign policy and domestic politics on the ground from Washington