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U.S. ups pressure on 9/11 families, offers $700M to drop Sudan claims: ABC


December 11, 2020 (WASHINGTON) – The U.S. administration ramped up pressure on families and victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack and made an unusual offer in its race against time to get Congress to pass a bill this month that would restore sovereign immunity for Sudan.

US President Trump on the phone in the Oval Office

According to ABC News, the Trump administration made a last-minute offer to 9/11 group of claimants of $700 million that will be taken out of U.S. funds in return for them dropping their pursuit of claims against the East African nation.

But the victims made a counteroffer of $4 billion which was rejected by the administration and Senate Republicans.

Andrew Maloney, liaison counsel to a group of 9/11 families that sued Sudan and Saudi Arabia, told Voice of America (VOA)’s South Sudan in Focus program he welcomes any deal that provides compensation and justice for victims of terrorism, especially the attacks on the USS Cole and the embassy bombings.

“We wish and expect the 9/11 victims will be included some day but for now we don’t want to stand in the way of compensation to the other bombing victims provided that the 9/11 victims’ … lawsuit against Sudan for similar conduct is not in any way jeopardized,” Maloney told VOA.

He said his legal team also recognized that Sudan “really doesn’t have much money,” and that the number of 9/11 victims is far larger than those from the USS Cole and the embassy bombings.

But Maloney argued that Congress should not grant Sudan any such immunity because it would deny his clients the right to pursue compensation for the 9/11 attacks.

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 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 agreement between Khartoum and Washington ran into opposition from a fraction of the 1998 embassy victims who later became naturalized US citizens and insisted on being treated like their peers who were US citizens at the time of the attack.

According to a previous report by ABC news this week, the Trump administration offered them an extra $150 million again from US funds which they appeared to accept for now pending further details.

But the Senate Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee insist that the proposed bill extinguishes potential claims by 9/11 families and offered their own versions that allow them to go after Sudan in courts.

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. The former appears to have more robust enforcement mechanisms to collect on court judgements.

Alternatively, they suggested amendments to JASTA which Khartoum rejected in a phone call between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chairman of Sudan Sovereign Council Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. Under the bilateral claims agreement, Khartoum has veto power over the proposed bills.

The US administration has also opposed Menendez and Schumer’s proposal because it would strengthen 9/11 claims against Saudi Arabia, a key ally.

Furthermore, the New York Times reported last week that Burhan warned Pompeo that normalization with Israel agreed to by Sudan last October 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.

Schumer and Menendez issued a joint statement on Thursday 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.

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.”

All sides believe that unless a deal is reached before year-end it will likely not be taken up by the incoming Biden administration until well into 2021.

In a related issue, the 45-day window for the US Congress to review Trump October 26th decision to remove Sudan from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism has expired yesterday.

The State Department said that Sudan is set to formally get off the list after Pompeo signs a rescission notice.

“The President transmitted the certification and justification required for SST rescission to Congress on October 26. If Congress does not block the rescission after a congressional notification period of 45 days in accordance with the relevant statutes, the decision would go into effect upon the Secretary’s signing of a notice to be published in the Federal Register,” a spokesperson told Sudan Tribune today.


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Kind regards,

The Sudan Tribune editorial team.

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