An Antiterror Opportunity in Sudan

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok speaks in Khartoum, Sudan, Aug. 15.

Photo: Mohamed Khidir/Zuma Press

The fact that Sudan’s leaders are openly discussing the normalization of relations with Israel shows how much the northeast African nation has changed since the downfall of dictator Omar al-Bashir. The Trump Administration’s diplomacy is pulling Khartoum closer to the West, but it needs help from Congress.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok took office last year after widespread protests brought about the old regime’s end. He shares power with unsavory figures but has managed to repeal draconian Islamic laws and give civil society some breathing room. The government has promised elections in 2022, and Mr. Hamdok wants to improve ties with the U.S. before his term ends.

The prime minister’s position is fragile. Many Islamists want him gone—he survived an assassination attempt this year—and the generals who toppled Mr. Bashir aren’t excited about democracy in Khartoum. But Congress can improve Mr. Hamdok’s standing, and give the country’s struggling economy a boost, by removing Sudan from the state sponsor of terrorism list.

The U.S. made the designation in 1993. Mr. Bashir hosted al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden at the time and gave them a free hand to plot mayhem around the region. After decades of isolation, the country has turned around and already qualifies for removal. Washington has tied the change to a $335 million compensation package for victims of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

The deal has bipartisan support in Congress, where it needs to be approved. But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez oppose it. Part of the opposition is because the agreement would pay American citizens more than foreigners. But 9/11 victims also want money from Sudan.

The 9/11 victims already have been compensated by Congress, and by pushing for more now they risk damaging the antiterror cause and harming U.S. interests in the region. The current $335 million is already a stretch for a $19 billion economy like Sudan’s. Expanding it to an even larger pool of recipients is simply unrealistic.

Sudan is pulling away from terror networks and toward the West, and the Trump Administration has to push Congress harder on the issue to ensure success. It would be an important diplomatic achievement in a part of the world where those don’t come often.

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Appeared in the September 29, 2020, print edition.

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