October 23, 2020
Sudan becomes the third predominantly Muslim country to recognize Israel in less than two months, joining the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
President Donald Trump speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Israel’s normalization agreement with Sudan, in the Oval Office on Friday. Win McNamee / Getty Images
By Adela Suliman and Charlene Gubash | NBC News
The east African country of Sudan on Friday became the third predominantly Muslim country to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel, in a deal brokered by President Donald Trump less than two weeks before the election.
Hailing the agreement as a “huge win” on Twitter, Trump claimed that more countries would follow. He also posted a joint statement issued on behalf of all three countries.
“The Sudanese government has demonstrated its courage and commitment to combatting terrorism, building its democratic institutions, and improving its relations with its neighbors,” the statement said, adding that the agreement would “improve regional security.”
“The United States will take steps to restore Sudan’s sovereign immunity and engage its international partners to reduce Sudan’s debt burdens, including advancing discussions on debt forgiveness,” the statement added.
The agreement was negotiated on the U.S. side by Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security official Miguel Correa.
“This is obviously going to create a big breakthrough peace between Israel and Sudan,” Kushner told Reuters. “Getting peace agreements done are not as easy as we are making them look right now. They are very hard to do.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that he rejected and condemned Sudan’s move.
“No one has the right to speak in the name of the Palestinian people and in the name of the Palestinian cause,” the statement said.
Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman of the Islamist group Hamas, a traditional ally of Sudan, told Reuters that Sudan had taken a step in the wrong direction.
The agreement comes just over a month after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords at the White House, becoming the first Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel in decades. Egypt did so in 1979, and Jordan followed in 1994.
Trump has hailed the accords as “historic” and said they represented the “dawn of a new Middle East.” He said at the time they were signed in September that “at least five or six other countries” would follow suit “very quickly.”
As part of the agreement, Trump took steps to remove Sudan from the U.S. list of State Sponsors of Terrorism list — which has for decades hindered the impoverished nation’s attempts to gain access to foreign financing and debt relief.
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok thanked the president for doing this in a tweet, which did not explicitly acknowledge the agreement with Israel.
A former home of Osama bin Laden, Sudan earned America’s wrath when it was accused of complicity in two Al Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, which killed hundreds.
Dozens of lawsuits connected to the attacks are making their way through the U.S. legal system as families seek financial damages worth billions of dollars. Sudan denies any wrongdoing, but has said it would make the compensation claims of $335 million, Trump said in a separate tweet earlier this month.
Relations with the U.S. showed further signs of thawing in August when Pompeo visited Sudan. Khartoum also appointed its first ambassador to Washington in almost a quarter-century in September.
The country of 43 million has been led by a fragile power-sharing Sovereignty Council government, made up of military members and civilians, since the dictator Omar al-Bashir was toppled last year after widespread protests.
Hailing Trump’s decision to remove Sudan from the state sponsors of terrorism list, the Sovereignty Council said in a statement Friday that it was “a major breakthrough for Sudan, which will have its effects on the overall political and economic situation in the country as well as Sudan’s foreign relations.”
Ties with Israel remain a sensitive issue in Sudan. Although many will be relieved about the potential removal of U.S. sanctions and the promise of a revived economy, those Sudanese who support the Palestinians may see the deal as a betrayal.
A popular political slogan in the Arab world known as the “Three No’s” was born in Khartoum in 1967: no peace, no recognition and no negotiations with Israel.
A February meeting in Uganda between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and head of the Sudanese State Council, Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, drew widespread protests in Sudan.
“This is a sensitive topic politically in Sudan and has the potential to further internal divisions,” said Ahmed Soliman, an Africa research fellow at Chatham House, a London think tank.
“Sudan seems to be being arm-twisted, given its need for support for its fragile democratic transition, ailing economy and recent partial peace deal,” he added.
Reuters contributed to this report.