U.S. Bid to Encourage Israeli Recognition Hits Snag in Sudan

Sudan’s transitional government told the U.S. it doesn’t have a mandate to normalize ties with Israel, but voiced hopes Washington would lift its decades-long designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok told Secretary of State Michael Pompeo that any normalization would have to wait until a permanent government is in place, Sudan’s information minister said Tuesday in a statement. Sudan, where long-time dictator and international pariah Omar al-Bashir was ousted last year, is ruled by a coalition of civilian and army officials until elections set for 2022.

The statement is an apparent setback for one of Pompeo’s aims in his visit to Sudan, a landmark trip highlighting rapidly warming ties between Washington and the North African state that once hosted Osama bin Laden and other militants. The U.S. has listed Sudan as a terrorism sponsor since 1993.

Hamdok also asked Pompeo, who’s visiting during a wider tour of the Middle East, not to link normalizing relations with Israel with the terrorism designation, according to the statement. The United Arab Emirates two weeks ago became the third member of the Arab League to recognize the Jewish state.

Pompeo and Hamdok agreed that the “rescission of Sudan’s state sponsor of terrorism designation remains a critical bilateral priority for both countries” and discussed “positive developments in the Sudan-Israel relationship,” said the secretary of state’s spokesperson, Morgan Ortagus.

The top U.S. diplomat also met General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, who heads the Sovereign Council, the most powerful constituent of Sudan’s transitional government.

Burhan held talks with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda in February and initially agreed on working toward normalizing relations. The encounter sparked controversy in Sudan, which has never recognized Israel and where the government’s civilian wing suggested it hadn’t been consulted.

Pompeo and Burhan “discussed the importance of the military’s continued support for the civilian-led transitional government and Sudan’s path toward democracy,” and regional issues “including continue deepening of the Israel-Sudan bilateral relationship,” Ortagus said.

Last week, a Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said his country was looking forward to its own peace deal. He was promptly fired and the foreign minister disavowed his remarks.

Israeli officials, though, have indicated Sudan may be among countries to follow the UAE’s lead. Some Israeli international flights began crossing Sudanese airspace after February’s meeting.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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