US and Sudan: Foes bury the hatchet

Friday October 23 2020

Sudan Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok exchange greetings with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Prime Minister's office in Khartoum on August 25, 2020. PHOTO | AFP | SUDAN PRIME MINISTER OFFICE


Washington once labelled Khartoum a hub of the "axis of evil", but relations between the US and Sudan have warmed since hardline Islamist president Omar al-Bashir was toppled last year.

On Friday, US President Donald Trump formally moved to delist Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, as he announced Sudan was normalising relations with Israel.

The White House said Sudan's civilian-backed transitional government had deposited $335 million as part of an agreement to compensate survivors and family members of attacks that took place when former Bashir welcomed Al-Qaeda.

This is a recap of its fractious relationship with the US over the last three decades:

Bin Laden and Carlos the Jackal

After Omar al-Bashir takes power in a coup in June 1989 supported by Islamists, the country becomes a haven for jihadists, including Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.


Sudan also hosts Illich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal, one of the world's most-wanted men for his involvement in international terror in the 1970s and 1980s.

1993: The US puts Sudan on its blacklist of countries it accuses of supporting terrorism.

1994: Carlos the Jackal is seized in Khartoum by French intelligence agents after Sudan does a secret deal with the US and France.

1996: Washington closes its Khartoum embassy after international sanctions are imposed on Sudan.

An economic embargo follows.

Bombings and 9/11 

1998: US bombs a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum in retaliation for Al-Qaeda attacks on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Washington claims the plant is linked to chemical weapons, which Sudan vehemently denies.

2001: Khartoum condemns the September 11 attacks on the US and says it supports the fight against terror.

2003: US and British flags are burned in Khartoum during protests against the US invasion of Iraq.

The following year, crowds burn effigies of US president George W. Bush and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, after Israel's assassination of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

Carrot and stick

June 2004: US secretary of state Colin Powell becomes the most senior US official to visit Sudan since 1978 for talks on the conflict in the western Darfur region, which he calls a "genocide".

The rapprochement continues when his successor Condoleezza Rice visits the following year.

2006-2007: US sanctions are toughened.

2008: A US diplomat and his driver are shot dead in Khartoum. Four Islamists are condemned to death for the killings. 

2009: Khartoum hopes for "real change" with the arrival of president Barack Obama, but he takes a carrot-and-stick approach.

2010: US sanctions prolonged.

South Sudan wins independence 

January 2011: US says it is ready to normalise relations if the Christian-majority South Sudan can break away peacefully.

July 2011: Both Washington and Khartoum recognise South Sudan on the day of its independence.

September 2011: Khartoum demands to be removed from the terrorism blacklist, but the US says violence in Sudan's Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states must stop.

Enter George Clooney 

March 2012: Washington calls for Sudan to allow humanitarian aid into Southern Kordofan, with Hollywood star George Clooney accusing Khartoum of crimes against humanity.

August 2012: After Sudan and newly independent South Sudan clash in oil-rich border zones, secretary of state Hillary Clinton urges both sides to end the violence.

2013: Washington calls Bashir's request for a US visa to attend the UN "deplorable". Bashir is wanted to face trial at the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and genocide in Darfur.

2014: The US condemns atrocities committed by pro-government militias in Darfur, and air strikes on civilians in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan.

Bashir deposed

October 2017: US ends its 20-year-old trade embargo against Sudan, but keeps Khartoum on its terrorism list.

April 2019: Washington welcomes the fall of Bashir, who is arrested by the military after four months of street protests.

December: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says a US ambassador will be sent to Khartoum for the first time in 23 years.

Sudan is also taken off its religious freedom blacklist of "countries of particular concern".

February 2020: Sudan agrees to compensate the families of 17 US sailors killed off Yemen in an Al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

A similar deal for the relatives of those killed in the 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam is also in the pipeline, it says.

The US accuses Sudan of aiding the militants who carried out the attacks, but while Khartoum denies any involvement, it accepts paying compensation if Washington removes it from the blacklist.

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who heads Sudan's transitional sovereign council, is invited to Washington. The same month Burhan meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda.

October 2020: Trump announces he will move to delist Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, and announces Sudan is normalising relations with Israel.