WASHINGTON - The Trump administration has begun the process of removing Sudan from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism while also working to get Khartoum to recognize Israel, which it hopes will happen quickly, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday.
Pompeo spoke just two days after President Donald Trump announced Sudan would be taken off the terrorism list after it transferred $355 million to compensate US victims and their families. However, Pompeo stopped short of saying Sudan's removal would be linked to whether it normalizes relations with Israel.
Sudan's de-listing could set in motion steps toward Sudan's establishment of relations with Israel, US officials have told Reuters, following similar US-brokered moves by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Rapprochement between Israel and another Arab country would give Trump a new diplomatic achievement as he seeks re-election on November 3.
Sudan's terrorism designation dates to its toppled ruler Omar al-Bashir and has made it difficult for its transitional government to access urgently needed debt relief and foreign financing.
Many in Sudan say the designation, imposed in 1993 because Washington believed Bashir was supporting militant groups, has become outdated since he was removed last year.
Sudan's central bank governor said on Tuesday the required funds had been deposited. The money was being placed in a special account for victims of al-Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
Trump is expected to sign an executive order soon to remove Sudan from the list, one US official said.
Asked when Sudan's de-listing is expected, Pompeo told reporters: "I don't know the precise timing but we have begun the process."
Asked whether this was related to Sudan normalizing ties with Israel, a linkage Sudan's prime minister opposes, Pompeo said Washington wanted Sudan and other countries "to recognize Israel."
"We are working diligently with them to make the case for why that's in the Sudanese government's best interest to make that sovereign decision." he said. "We hope that they'll do that quickly."
Military figures leading Sudan's transition have appeared open to normalization, but left-wing and Islamist politicians are more reluctant.
Trump’s notification to Congress will give lawmakers 45 days to review the delisting, though they are unlikely to block it.
However, legislation is needed to shield Sudan from future legal claims over past attacks to ensure the flow of payments to the embassy bombing victims and their families.