The United States has begun the process of removing Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and is also working "diligently" to get Khartoum to recognize Israel, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday.
Pompeo spoke to reporters just days after President Donald Trump announced Sudan would be taken off the terrorism list after it transferred $335 million in funds to compensate U.S. victims and their families. However, Pompeo stopped short of saying Sudan's removal would be linked to whether it would agree to normalize relations with Israel.
Sudan's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism dates to its toppled ruler Omar al-Bashir and makes it difficult for its transitional government to access urgently needed debt relief and foreign financing.
Many in Sudan say the designation, imposed in 1993 because the United States believed Bashir's government was supporting militant groups, is now undeserved since Bashir was removed last year and Sudan has long cooperated with the United States on counter-terrorism.
U.S.-Sudanese negotiations have focused on funds that Washington wants Khartoum to deposit in escrow for victims of al-Qaida attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, U.S. government sources said.
Sudan had insisted that any announcement of Khartoum's de-listing not be explicitly linked to normalization with Israel. Differences remain between Sudanese political and military officials on how far and how fast to go in warming of relations with Israel.
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One possibility, one U.S. official said earlier, would be for Washington to first announce Sudan's delisting and then leave it to Sudan and Israel to go public later with an agreement on establishing relations.
Rapprochement between Israel and another Arab country would give Trump a new diplomatic achievement as he seeks re-election on November 3.
In recent months, senior Sudanese officials have relayed contradictory messages regarding the possibility of official ties with Israel - though such have existed in effect for some time now. Earlier this year, in fact, Netanyahu openly met with the chief of Sudan's Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, in Uganda.
Immediately after the meeting, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement: "It has been agreed to start a cooperation that will lead to normalizing the ties between the countries."
Netanyahu's bureau also stated that "Prime Minister Netanyahu believes that Sudan is moving in a positive direction, and the prime minister has expressed his outlook to the American secretary of state. The head of Sudan's Sovereignty Council is interested in helping his country go through a process of modernization by taking it out of isolation and placing it on the map."
It has also been reported that Mossad chief Yossi Cohen met with Sundanese leaders ahead of a possible normalization of ties.