WASHINGTON: Sudan on Friday agreed to be the latest Arab nation to recognize Israel in a diplomatic coup announced by President Donald Trump days before US elections. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed an accord at the White House last month to normalize relations with Israel but Sudan carries added symbolism as an Arab nation that has been at war with Israel.
Trump announced the agreement by Sudan’s year-old civilian-backed government moments after he formally moved to end the nation’s designation of a state sponsor of terrorism, which was a major goal for Khartoum.
Reporters were escorted into the Oval Office where Trump was on speakerphone with Sudan’s leadership and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of the embattled Republican president. “This truly changes the region. It changes the lives of our peoples for the better and allows us to focus on the task of building our nations, building our future,” Netanyahu was heard telling Trump.
Trump said that more Arab states are also looking to recognize Israel including regional power Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s two holiest cities.
“We have at least five more that want to come in and we’ll have many more than that soon,” Trump said in a room packed with aides, few of them wearing masks despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
Until last month, the only Arab nations to recognize Israel were Jordan and Egypt — neighbors of the Jewish state that had made peace after US mediation.
Both the United States and Israel committed to boosting trade with Sudan, an impoverished, conflict-ridden nation that had faced years of criticism over its violent internal campaigns until the fall of dictator Omar al-Bashir last year.
In a three-way statement, Sudan and Israel said delegations would meet “in the coming weeks to negotiate agreements of cooperation” including in agriculture issues, aviation, and migration.
“The leaders agreed to the normalization of relations between Sudan and Israel and to end the state of belligerence between their nations,” it said, without setting a date.
As part of the deal to get off the terror blacklist, the White House said that Sudan’s transitional government had deposited $335 million to compensate survivors and family members of anti-US attacks that took place when Bashir’s regime welcomed Al-Qaeda.
Sudan’s civilian prime minister, Abdulla Hamdok, thanked Trump over the terror designation without mentioning recognition of Israel — a step he had earlier said he was not empowered to take.
“This decision will open wide the door to Sudan’s deserved return to the international community and the international financial and banking sector, as well as to regional and international investment,” Hamdok’s office said in a statement that did not mention ties with Israel.
But Sudanese TV later said Sudan had in fact agreed to end the state of war with Israel and normalize ties.
Also on the telephone call was Sudan’s top general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who met Netanyahu earlier this year in Uganda.
Trump had announced his plan to delist Sudan on Monday through Twitter. But in the days before he formally took the move, Israel sent a delegation to Khartoum to discuss normalization.
Trump, who is trailing in the polls ahead of the November 3 vote, has used his leverage over Sudan to press for recognition of Israel.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced hope on Wednesday that Sudan would “promptly” recognize the Jewish state — a major cause for Trump’s evangelical Christian base.
Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates had long enjoyed quiet relations with Israel but a move by Sudan is especially significant in light of the nation’s history.
Sudan played a small part in Arab-Israeli wars and, after Israel’s decisive victory in 1967, Khartoum was where the Arab League issued its famous “three no’s” — no peace, no recognition, and no negotiations with Israel.
Sudan has been seeking for years to remove the designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, which severely impedes investment as few foreign businesses want to risk the wrath of US prosecution.
With Trump’s formal move, Congress has 45 days in which it can pass a resolution to object to the delisting.
Congress is not expected to block the delisting but it must also approve legislation to grant Sudan immunity from further claims.
Until then, the $335 million will be held in an escrow account.
The money includes compensation to survivors and family members of those killed in Al-Qaeda’s twin attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.