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US authorises aid to Sudan and restores sovereign immunity

The move, which follows Sudan's removal from terror list, shields Khartoum from being sued in US courts
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok during a visit to Khartoum (AFP)
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Washington

The US Congress has passed legislation reinstating Sudan's sovereign immunity, a step that would shield Khartoum from being sued in American courts for past terror attacks and removes a major hurdle to investments in the African country.

As part of an enormous spending bill approved on Monday, US lawmakers also authorised aid in the hundreds of millions of dollars to Sudan, including debt relief and direct assistance.

The move comes a week after the US State Department removed Sudan from its State Sponsors of Terrorism list. As part of the deal, the transitional government in Khartoum had agreed to normalise relations with Israel, despite the apparent misgivings of civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

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Monday's legislation would shield Sudan from legal claims against Sudan's government "or any of its agencies, instrumentalities, officials, employees, or agents in any action in a Federal or State court".

Khartoum has previously settled lawsuits by victims of the bombings of US embassies in east Africa in 1998 and the attack on the navy ship USS Cole in 2000.

The attacks had been claimed by al-Qaeda, whose late leader Osama bin Laden resided in Sudan from 1992 to 1996.

The negotiated settlement for the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed more than 220 people, was $335m, far less than what the courts had previously awarded to the victims and their families. 

The USS Cole settlement, reached in February, awarded the families of the 17 sailors killed in the attack a total of $70m.

Sudan's newly restored sovereign immunity does not protect it from an ongoing lawsuit by families of victims of the 9/11 attacks, who are seeking billions of dollars in damages. The Sudanese government has signalled that it will push back against the case to prove that Khartoum has no links to the 2001 attacks.

Normalisation

On Monday, Congress allocated $700m in aid to Sudan, which will be dispensed through until September 2022. It also authorised a $120m payment to the International Monetary Fund to pay outstanding debt on behalf of Khartoum as well as $111m in relief from bilateral debt.

The last sum lays out conditions that appear related to Sudan's pledge to normalise ties with Israel. The legislation says the money "may be used notwithstanding any other provision of law, in the event Sudan meets the domestic and internationally agreed conditions and the modifications are consistent with United States law and foreign policy considerations".

After the toppling of longtime president Omar al-Bashir following a popular uprising last year, the Sudanese army and opposition groups came to a power-sharing agreement to form a transitional council with both civilian and military leaders.

In October, US President Donald Trump's White House announced in a joint statement with the leaders of Sudan and Israel that the two countries had agreed to normalise ties. 

But Hamdok had previously said that his transitional government lacked the popular mandate to take major foreign policy decisions.