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Explained: The US ‘State Sponsor of Terrorism’ list, and what Sudan’s removal means

On October 23, the same day on which the US, Sudan and Israel released a joint statement announcing the normalisation of relations between Sudan and Israel, the White House announced the US was formally rescinding Sudan’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: October 25, 2020 11:18:05 am
Sudan, Sudan terrorism list, US terrorism list, Sudan Israel ties, US elections, Trump Sudan, Indian ExpressSecretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner applaud as US President Donald Trump is seen on the phone with leaders of Israel and Sudan speaking about the decision to rescind Sudan's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, in the Oval Office at the White House (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Sudan on Friday became the third Arab nation in recent weeks to normalise relations with Israel, days after the US removed it from its State Sponsor of Terrorism list, of which the North African country was a part for over 27 years.

On Monday, President Donald Trump said he would be removing Sudan from the terrorism list, which effectively kept the impoverished nation off the global financial system since 1993, in exchange for $335 million in compensation for victims of terror attacks on US embassies in East Africa in 1998 and on a US warship in Yemen in 2000.

Trump tweeted, “GREAT news! New government of Sudan, which is making great progress, agreed to pay $335 MILLION to U.S. terror victims and families. Once deposited, I will lift Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. At long last, JUSTICE for the American people and BIG step for Sudan!”

Then on Friday (October 23), the same day on which the US, Sudan and Israel released a joint statement announcing the normalisation of relations between Sudan and Israel, the White House released a separate statement which said that the US was formally rescinding Sudan’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, and that Sudan had transferred the $335 million into an escrow account on October 22.

What is the US State Sponsor of Terrorism list?

The US Secretary of State (the minister primarily in charge of foreign relations) has been given powers to designate countries that “have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” as “State Sponsors of Terrorism”.

According to the State Department website, the US can place four categories of sanctions on countries part of the list– restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defence exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

Sanctions can also be placed on countries and persons that engage in certain trade with designated countries.

After Sudan’s delisting, three countries remain with the designation: Syria (listed in 1979), Iran (1984) and North Korea (2017).


Apart from Sudan, other countries which were once part of the list and later removed include Iraq (first removed in 1982, relisted in 1990, and again removed in 2004), South Yemen (1990, when it merged with North Yemen), Libya (2006) and Cuba (2015).

According to a Council on Foreign Relations report, Sudan’s delisting would require approval from the US Congress and would take several weeks. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

Why has Trump removed Sudan from the list now?

Trump, who seeks re-election on November 3, is trailing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in polls for the top race.


Having faced widespread disaffection for his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has now killed over 2.2 lakh people in the US, Trump has tried to turn public attention towards his foreign policy agenda.

Hoping to impress evangelical Christian voters in the US, who are seen as favouring pro-Israel policies, Trump in the past four years has doubled down on measures considered favourable to Israel, such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, and most recently facilitated the normalising of relations between Israel and two Arab states– the UAE and Bahrain.

Evangelicals form a major part of Trump’s conservative base, and keeping them energised is a critical part of his reelection strategy.

It was to make sure that Sudan too would recognise Israel, that the Trump administration agreed with Khartoum to remove it from the terrorism list, multiple reports said.

Don’t miss from Explained | What US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital means


When and how was Sudan put in the list in the first place?

The US added Sudan to the terrorism list in 1993, after it was accused of harbouring groups such as Hezbollah and Palestinian militant outfits which Washington deems as terrorists.


At the time, Sudan was ruled by dictator Omar al-Bashir, who had come to power in 1989 after toppling a democratically elected government. Bashir, who enforced hardline Islamist policies over Sudan for three decades until his ouster last year, was also blamed for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa, and the 2000 bombing of the US warship Cole in Yemen.

After its designation in the US terrorism list, Sudan was cut off from the global economy, and was starved of foreign investment. The country’s economy suffered another blow in 2011, when Christians and Animists in southern parts of the country, already up in arms against Khartoum for decades, seceded to form the new country of South Sudan, taking away more than three-quarters of Sudan’s oil reserves.


The country’s financial woes led to high inflation and price rises in essential commodities, leading to protests that led to Bashir being ousted from power in 2019.

What removal from the list means for Sudan

Since Bashir’s removal, an unelected transitional government consisting of both civilian and military leaders has been ruling Sudan. The new leadership has sought to veer the country away from Bashir’s hardline policies. It has removed apostasy laws, banned female genital mutilation, launched enquiries into the Darfur conflict and put Bashir on trial.

However, Sudan’s continued presence on the terrorism list, despite being over a year since Bashir’s removal, added to the transitional government’s challenges. Now that it has been delisted, Sudan would rejoin the global economy– and be able to access foreign investments and debt relief from international financial institutions (IFIs).

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However, experts say that because the delisting has been linked to Sudan recognising Israel, its unelected government could face a domestic backlash, as many are blaming the US of arm-twisting Sudan into compliance.

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First published on: 24-10-2020 at 06:40:02 pm
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