US secretary of state in Sudan to discuss normalisation of ties with Israel

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US secretary of state Mike Pompeo has become the highest ranking US official to visit Sudan since its autocratic leader, Omar al-Bashir, was ousted last year.

Mr Pompeo’s visit is meant to discuss the normalisation of ties between Sudan and Israel and also show US support for the country’s fragile transition to democracy.

Mr Pompeo is also the first US secretary of state to visit the African county since 2005, when Condoleezza Rice visited. Mr Pompeo is also due to discuss the removal of Sudan from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

He arrived from Israel, and while he was still airborne, Mr Pompeo tweeted: “Happy to announce that we are on the FIRST official NONSTOP flight from Israel to Sudan!”

Mr Pompeo’s flight was the first direct trip between Tel Aviv to Khartoum. He was in Israel on Monday, the first stop of his multi-country tour in the region that came following the August 13 agreement by Israel and the United Arab Emirates to establish diplomatic ties.

Mr Pompeo visited Israel on Monday (Debbie Hill/Pool via AP)
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He is to meet with Sudanese General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling sovereign council, and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The State Department had said ahead of the tour that Mr Pompeo would discuss “continued US support for the civilian-led transitional government and express support for deepening the Sudan-Israel relationship”.

In February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with General Burhan, during a trip to Uganda where they pledged to pursue normalisation. The meeting was held secretly and only announced after it happened.

At the time of the meeting, the Sudanese military said the talks with Israel were an effort to help end Sudan’s status as an international pariah state.

Following a meeting with Mr Hamdok on Monday, a coalition representing the protesters who helped topple al-Bashir last year, said in a statement that the transitional government “has no mandate” to decide on normalising ties with Israel.

The coalition, known as Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, also “emphasised the right of the Palestinian people to their land and the right of free and dignified life”, the statement said.

Sudan hosted the landmark Arab conference after the 1967 Mideast war where eight Arab countries approved the “three nos”: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations.

But in recent years those hostilities have softened, and both countries have expressed readiness to normalise relations.

Sudan is now on a fragile path to democracy after the popular uprising led the military to overthrow al-Bashir in April 2019. A military-civilian government now rules the country, with elections deemed possible in late 2022.

The transitional authorities are desperate to lift sanctions linked to its listing by the US as a state sponsor of terror. That would be a key step towards ending its isolation and rebuilding its battered economy that has plunged in recent months, threatening to destabilise the political transition.

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