KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday that he was not mandated to normalise ties with Israel, and the issue should not be linked to Sudan’s removal from a U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list.
Pompeo arrived from Israel on what he said was the first official non-stop flight between the two countries, as the United States looks to strengthen Sudan-Israel ties.
He met Hamdok and ruling council head Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, tweeting that Sudan’s democratic transition was a “once in a generation opportunity”. He discussed the Sudan-Israel relationship with both Hamdok and Burhan, according to State Department statements.
The United States has been restoring relations with Sudan following the ousting of former Islamist leader Omar al-Bashir in 2019 after mass protests. The country is one year into a 39-month political transition in which the military and civilians are sharing power.
Its economy is in crisis and authorities have been pushing to end the U.S. terrorism listing, which prevents Sudan from accessing financing from international lenders.
Sudan’s removal from the list “remains a critical bilateral priority for both countries”, the State Department said.
Pompeo’s visit follows an accord between Israel and the UAE this month to forge full relations, and comes as Israel and the United States push more Arab countries to follow.
In February, Burhan met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda, a meeting condemned by Sudanese protesters. He afterwards cast doubt on any rapid normalisation of relations, though Israeli aircraft soon began overflying Sudan.
Ties with Israel are a sensitive issue in Sudan, which was among the hardline Muslim foes of Israel under Bashir. The government sacked its foreign ministry spokesman last week after he called the UAE decision to normalise relations with Israel “a brave and bold step”.
Hamdok’s transitional government “does not have a mandate ... to decide on normalisation with Israel”, he told Pompeo, and the matter would be decided after all Sudan’s interim bodies had been established, according to government spokesman Faisal Saleh.
“The Prime Minister called on the U.S. administration to separate the process of removing Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism and the issue of normalisation with Israel,” Saleh said.
A legislative body to serve alongside the ruling council and the government is yet to be formed, a step that Pompeo noted was “crucial”.
Washington imposed sanctions on Sudan over its alleged support for militant groups and the civil war in Darfur. Trade sanctions were lifted in 2017.
Pompeo and Hamdok also agreed that reaching a deal over the operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) was “crucial to regional stability”, according to the State Department.
Sudan discussed the issue on Tuesday with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was on a separate visit to Khartoum.
Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, Dan Williams, Nadine Awadalla and Omar Fahmy; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Giles Elgood and John Stonestreet
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