By CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump formally notified Congress on Friday that his administration will remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, nearly 30 years after the African country was first listed.
In a historic joint call afterwards, he also announced a “very special deal” between Israel and Sudan — marking the third Arab country to move toward normalizing relations with the Jewish state in an election-season push by his administration.
It’s unclear if Sudan, which had pushed back on the White House efforts, is formally recognizing Israel or ending hostilities against it after decades of tensions.
Either way, Friday’s events mark a historic new chapter, 18 months after the Sudanese people overthrew their strongman leader in mass protests. Facing fuel and food shortages and sky-high inflation, Sudan is desperate for international assistance, humanitarian aid, and foreign investment, all of which have been stymied or outright blocked by U.S. sanctions.
Despite the advances, several critical hurdles remain, including for the U.S. victims of terror attacks who have legal claims against Sudan.
In an agreement reached between the State Department and Sudan’s transitional government, the country agreed to pay $335 million to the victims of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, victims of the USS Cole attack, and the family of murdered USAID employee John Granville.
The White House confirmed Friday that those funds were now in escrow, triggering Trump’s pending formal notification to Congress. But none of that money will be paid out until lawmakers resolve Sudan’s “legal peace,” and after a deal to do so fell apart last month, several sources warned there’s no resolution in sight.
In the meantime, Trump celebrated the announcements Friday, by touting his deal-making abilities: “Do you think Sleepy Joe could have made this deal, Bibi?” he asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over a speakerphone, referring to former Vice President Joe Biden the morning after their last debate.
“There are many, many more coming,” Trump added, after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain announced normalized relations with Israel earlier this fall. Few in the Oval Office were wearing masks.
Sudan’s prime minister Abdalla Hamdok had resisted relations with Israel, saying his transitional government did not have the authority to do so. Hamdok is the civilian leader, sharing power with Gen. Abdel Fattah al Burhan, chair of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council, after the military ousted Omar al Bashir, a murderous dictator who led the country from 1989 to 2019. After mass demonstrations ousted Bashir, the military seized power, but later agreed to a transition to democracy because of continued demonstrations.
Trump’s focus on Israel overshadowed the historic nature of the U.S. lifting its most stringent sanctions on Sudan, providing a renewed opportunity as the transitional government struggles to provide for the Sudanese people.
While the formal notification has not yet been delivered to Congress, it can now happen because Sudan transferred the $335 million for terror victims to a European bank, according to two sources.
But no victim will see a dime until legal peace is resolved, according to a congressional aide and a source briefed on the matter, and there’s a clock ticking down because the money was loaned to Sudan from the African Export-Import Bank. If the money is not transferred within a certain time period, Sudan would face penalties and likely take the funds back.
Congress will have to resolve ongoing claims against Sudan in legislation that re-establishes its “legal peace” — a legal term that means as a sovereign country, it cannot be sued.
Sudan’s listing on the state sponsors of terrorism list waived that immunity, but before Congress returns it, some lawmakers have concerns about protecting ongoing litigation by victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, even though Sudan has not been found liable for those. An agreement to resolve those issues fell apart last month, sources told ABC News at the time.
Sources told ABC News this week that a deal to resolve the issue is taking shape in Congress.
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