Trump speaks with the leaders of Israel and Sudan in the Oval Office in October 2020
Trump speaks with the leaders of Israel and Sudan in the Oval Office in October 2020Reuters

The United States has formally removed Sudan from its state sponsor of terrorism blacklist, its Khartoum embassy said Monday, less than two months after the East African nation pledged to normalize ties with Israel.

The move opens the way for aid, debt relief and investment to a country going though a rocky political transition and struggling under a severe economic crisis exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

US President Donald Trump had announced in October that he was delisting Sudan, 27 years after Washington first put the country on its blacklist for harboring Islamist terrorists.

"The congressional notification period of 45 days has lapsed and the Secretary of State has signed a notification stating rescission of Sudan's State Sponsor of Terrorism designation," the US embassy in Khartoum said on Facebook.

The measure "is effective as of today (December 14), to be published in the Federal Register."

As part of a deal, Sudan agreed to pay $335 million to compensate survivors and victims' families from the twin 1998 al-Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and a 2000 attack by the jihadist group on the USS Cole off Yemen's coast.

Those attacks were carried out after dictator Omar al-Bashir had allowed then al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden sanctuary in Sudan.

Bashir was deposed by the military in April 2019, following four months of street protests against his iron-fisted rule and 30 years after an Islamist backed coup had brought him to power.

Protesters stayed on the streets for months after Bashir's removal from office, demanding a military council that seized power hand over to a civilian government, before a precarious power-sharing administration was agreed in August last year.

Cracks in transition

Sudan in October became the third Arab country in as many months to pledge that it would normalize relations with Israel, after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

The transitional government's pledge came amid a concerted campaign by the Trump administration to persuade Arab nations to recognize the Jewish state, and it has been widely perceived as a quid pro quo for Washington removing Sudan from its terror blacklist.

But unlike the UAE and Bahrain, Sudan has yet to agree a formal deal with Israel, amid wrangling within the fractious transitional power structure over the move.

In late November, a spokesman for Sudan's Sovereign Council -- the country's highest executive authority, comprised of military and civilian figures -- confirmed that an Israeli delegation had visited Khartoum earlier in the month.

Seeking to downplay the visit, council spokesman Mohamed al-Faki Suleiman had said "we did not announce it at the time because it was not a major visit or of a political nature".

Sudan's transition has lately displayed major signs of internal strain, with army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan -- who doubles as the head of the Sovereign Council -- last week blasting the power sharing institutions.

"The transitional council has failed to respond to the aspirations of the people and of the revolution," he charged, while also lauding the integrity of the military.

The first major evidence of engagement between Sudan's interim authorities and Israel came in February, when Burhan met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda.

Trump sent his notice to remove Sudan from the terror blacklist to Congress on October 26 and, under US law, a country exits the list after 45 days unless Congress objects, which it has not.

Families of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks had called on lawmakers to reject the State Department's proposal, saying they want to pursue legal action against Sudan.

Here is a recap of Sudan's fractious relationship with the US over the past three decades:

Bin Laden and Carlos

After Omar al-Bashir takes power in a coup in June 1989 supported by Islamists, the country becomes a haven for jihadist terrorists, 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: The 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.

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 arrival of president Barack Obama, but he takes a carrot-and-stick approach.

2010: US sanctions prolonged.

South Sudan wins independence

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

July 2011: Both Washington and Khartoum recognize 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: Sudan and newly independent South Sudan clash in oil-rich border zones.

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.

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

Bashir deposed

April 11, 2019: After four months of street protests, Bashir falls and is arrested by the military.

In December that year US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says an ambassador will be sent to Khartoum for the first time in 23 years. Sudan is taken off its religious freedom blacklist.

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.

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

October 2020: Trump says Sudan is no longer a state sponsor of terrorism as he announces that the country is normalizing relations with Israel.