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Democratic Senators push for deal on Sudan’s sovereign immunity bill

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December 9, 2020 (KHARTOUM) – Two key Democratic senators defended their positions on a proposed bill that would restore sovereign immunity for Sudan and said they are prepared to work with the Trump administration to reach an agreement on the legislation to pass this month.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, left, and Sen. Robert Menendez, right (Getty Images)

The Sudanese government signed a bilateral claims agreement with the United States last month that stipulated removing Sudan from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism and passing the ‘legal peace’ bill in return for paying $335 million to settle claims with the victims of terror attacks.

The deal covers the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the attack against the USS Cole off the port of Aden in 2000 as well as the 2008 killing of USAID employee in Khartoum.

But the Senate Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee objected to the settlement saying it discriminates against African embassy employees who later became US citizens and extinguishes potential claims by 9/11 families.

This week ABC News reported that the state department offered to beef up payment to 1998 victims by $150 million out of its own funds. However, the sticking point remains the 9/11 issue and talks with the state department which brokered the settlement deal appeared to have stalled.

Schumer and Menendez issued a joint statement today saying that their offices “drafted not one, but two legislative options for restoring Sudan’s sovereign immunity, preserving and protecting the claims of 9/11 families, and resolving the embassy bombing and other international terrorism-related claims against Sudan”.

“We offered two versions in the spirit of cooperation and compromise, both of which overcome severe problems with the deal the State Department cut with Sudan that have tragically pitted different groups of victims of terrorism against one another” the statement reads.

Sources say that the 9/11 families want to go after Sudan in courts under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) rather than the Justice Against Sponsors of Terror Act (JASTA) which the Trump administration advocates.

Sudan became exposed to individual lawsuits because FISA stripped it of immunity due to its inclusion in the terror blacklist since 1993. The East African nation will officially get off this list in the coming days.

The two senators said their proposed versions of the bill enjoy the support of key house and senate democrats and are prepared to pass either one before the end of the year.

“We strongly support a successful transition to democracy in Sudan; making this deal work for victims of terrorism should not be in conflict with that goal. As negotiations with the Trump administration continue, we call on Senate Republicans and the State Department to step up to the plate and work with us to make it a reality.”

Sudan itself has its own reservations on the bills, officials say and believe the differences have a 50-50 chance of being resolved this year given the unsuccessful rounds of negotiations.

But a new factor came into play which is the normalization deal between Sudan and Israel last October which was driven by intense pressure from the US. Last week, the New York Times reported that chairman of Sudan sovereign council Abdel-Fatah al-Burhan warned US Secretary of state Mike Pompeo that the peace deal is in jeopardy unless the bill is passed.

The US-based Axios news site reported on Monday that Israel is lobbying senators and members of Congress to approve the bill at the request of Khartoum.

“Since Sudan decided to normalize relations with Israel, Israel obviously has an interest to help resolve Sudan’s problems in Washington. This can encourage other countries to normalize relations with Israel too," a senior Israeli official told Axios.

The Israeli officials said they got assurances from the Trump administration and from senior senators and members of Congress that the issue of the immunity bill will be solved.

The Congress is also under pressure from the victims’ families who would only get paid the $335 million in compensation if the bill is passed.

(ST)

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