US restores sovereign immunity to Sudan, authorizes funds to help pay off debt

CAIRO / WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Monday restored sovereign immunity to Sudan, as the United States Congress passed a law formalizing the decision, after the designation of Sudan as the sponsoring state of the country ended. terrorism.

However, the legislation includes an exemption allowing the families of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States already underway in U.S. courts to move forward, although experts say Sudan is unlikely to lose those things.

The designation of a state sponsor of terrorism, which had been in place for almost three decades, had weighed on Sudan’s economy and restricted its ability to receive aid. For investors, restoring sovereign immunity removes another layer of financial risk.

Sudan had been engaged in talks with the United States for months and paid a negotiated settlement of $ 335 million to victims of Al Qaeda attacks on US embassies in East Africa in 1998, which had received much higher damages from US courts.

The process of unlocking the settlement money and restoring Sudan’s sovereign immunity – protection from lawsuits in US courts – had been blocked in the US Congress because it was tied to the $ 892 billion aid package. dollars against coronaviruses.

Late Monday, the larger package was passed by the US Congress after a deal was worked out in a rare weekend session and sent to President Donald Trump to enact legislation.

According to the bill, Washington will authorize $ 111 million to repay part of Sudan’s bilateral debt and $ 120 million to help repay its debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) while making an additional $ 700 million available up to ‘in September 2022 for aid to the country. .

Last week, the Sudanese finance minister announced an American “bridge loan” that would allow Sudan to clear $ 1 billion in arrears to the World Bank.

A US source familiar with the matter said the debt aid would help kickstart Sudan’s debt relief globally, thereby helping to make it eligible for the IMF’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) program. .

With sovereign immunity and financial aid restored, Khartoum will now be “on the hook” to normalize relations with Israel, said a US source familiar with the matter, a move it accepted under US pressure. .

The US-Sudanese developments “certainly” meant progress towards an agreement between Israel and Sudan, Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Ynet TV, adding: “We will be witnessing a signing ceremony in the weeks or months. future “.

In a joint statement in October, Israel and Sudan said they had agreed to normalize relations and end the state of belligerence between the two countries, but Sudanese civilian leaders said the final decision would be between the hands of a country to come. formed a transitional legislature.

Normalization would make Sudan one of four Arab countries with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, in recent months, to establish relations with Israel under agreements negotiated with the help of the United States. .

The bill also appropriates an additional $ 150 million for the payment of Sudan’s settlement, to redistribute funds in a way the bill’s sponsors deem more equitable.

The United States designated Sudan as the sponsor state of terrorism in 1993 on the grounds that the regime of former President Omar al-Bashir supported militant groups including al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah.

In the 1990s, the regime became an outcast, welcoming Osama bin Laden and positioning itself as a backbone of Islamist movements, although experts still say Sudan’s responsibility for the September 11 attacks is questionable.

Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Robert Birsel, William Maclean

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