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'Historic step': Sudan appoints first ambassador to US in decades

Appointment marks latest move in Khartoum's bid to be removed from US list of state sponsors of terrorism
A man is seen entering Sudan's embassy in Washington in 2019 (Reuters)

Sudan has announced that the United States has approved Khartoum's pick of a veteran diplomat as ambassador to Washington, the first such envoy in over two decades.

Ties between Khartoum and Washington had been officially strained during the three-decade rule of Omar al-Bashir, but have eased after he was ousted by the army last year following mass protests.

Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok visited Washington in December and the two countries agreed to exchange envoys.

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"The US government approved the nomination of Noureldin Sati as an ambassador and plenipotentiary of the Republic of Sudan," Sudan's foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday.

A veteran diplomat, Sati served as Sudan's ambassador to France in the 1990s and later worked with United Nations peacekeeping missions in Congo and Rwanda.

Monday's step of recognising Sati as Sudan's first ambassador to Washington since 1998 comes as part of "normalising relations" between Khartoum and Washington, the ministry said. 

The US government added Sudan to its list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1993 over allegations that Bashir’s government was supporting militant groups.

The move left Sudan ineligible for badly needed debt relief and financing from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, helping to decimate its economy.

Active discussions

Last year, a senior State Department official said the US might remove Sudan from the terrorism list but that the US Congress needed to ratify such a move.

Both countries had for almost a quarter of century appointed only charge d'affaires, a diplomatic rank under an ambassador, to run their embassies in Washington and Khartoum.

A State Department representative declined to provide any insight on plans to appoint its own ambassador to Sudan and said it did not have specific information on the timing for that, but called the December decision to exchange ambassadors "a historic step", Reuters reported.

The representative declined to comment on internal US government deliberations on where the talks are about Sudan being removed from the terrorism list, but added that the two countries remain engaged in active discussions.

Diplomacy

Sudan is currently ruled by a transitional joint civilian-military administration that took power in August last year after Bashir's fall.

Hamdok's government has sought to bolster its international standing and mend ties with the US.  

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In February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a key US ally, said that an Israeli civilian aircraft had flown through Sudanese airspace for the first time.

Sudan has been part of a decades-old Arab boycott of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians and its illegal occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands.

Khartoum said on 5 February that it had given Israeli planes initial approval to fly over its territory, two days after Lieutenant General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan's Sovereignty Council, met Netanyahu in Uganda.

As the administration of US President Donald Trump has pushed its controversial plan for Israel and Palestine in past months, critics have suggested that the thawing relations between Sudan and Israel could be tied to the removal of US sanctions.

USS Cole compensation

Also in February, Khartoum agreed to compensate the families of American victims of a suicide bombing targeting navy destroyer USS Cole in Yemen's Aden harbour in 2000.

The attack was claimed by al-Qaeda. The US had for years accused Sudan, which once hosted the global network's leader Osama bin Laden, of training and supporting the attackers.

Sudan always denied the charges but agreed to the settlement to fulfil a key US condition to remove it from Washington's terrorism blacklist.

"Compensation for the victims of terrorism remains a priority for the US government," the State Department representative told Reuters on Monday.

"The United States and Sudan continue to engage regarding certain terrorism-related claims."