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The US-Sudan 1998 bombing settlement agreement is vital to national security

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For decades, the U.S. relationship with the government of Sudan has been shaped by Sudan’s hosting Osama bin Laden while he was building his al Qaeda terrorist network that continues to threaten American security interests in Eastern Africa and the Middle East. Consequently, the U.S. has kept Sudan on its list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism” and imposed a full range of financial and legal sanctions. Sudan has remained on the State Sponsor of Terror list because of its history serving as a safe haven and supporter of Al Qaeda, Iran and other terrorist groups. Fortunately, that history is coming to a close. Following on the heels of President Bashir being ousted last year in a peaceful people-led revolution, a new civilian-led government is cooperating with the U.S. and its regional allies on a range of security issues.

As part of that pivot, the U.S. has taken a number of measures to ease the sanctions on Sudan, with only one remaining — taking Sudan off the “list” of those countries that support and sponsor terrorism. That last step is ready to be taken as part of a “bilateral settlement agreement” between the U.S. and Sudan. This agreement requires Sudan to pay substantial compensation to the victims of one of its most notorious acts of terrorist support — assisting and providing “safe haven” to al Qaeda when it carried out the near simultaneous attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on Aug. 7, 1998. Those attacks were among the deadliest assaults ever made on our diplomatic missions — comparable to those carried out by Iran and Hezbollah on our embassies in Beirut in April 1983 and September 1984, given the many lives lost.  

As a diplomat who has served as an ambassador and who oversaw African policy during the George W. Bush administration under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, I am keenly aware of the dangers Americans face as they serve our nation in vulnerable diplomatic posts. Diplomats are America’s “front line” faces to the rest of the world. Their primary weapons are patriotism, professionalism, cultural awareness and empathy.

However, unlike American military installations, U.S. embassies are much more vulnerable to the threat of a terrorist attack. The 1998 attacks on our embassies in East Africa drove home this point very clearly; 12 Americans were killed, and dozens injured — along with scores of Kenyan and Tanzanian foreign nationals who also worked at our embassies. These victims of terrorism will never be forgotten, as the wall at the Department of State building in Foggy Bottom listing the names of Foreign Service officers killed in the line of duty makes clear.

Sudan is a very poor country, lacking oil and other natural resources enjoyed by many of its neighbors. It faces huge hurdles in emerging from the shadow of President Bashir and charting a new course that will provide political and economic stability for its people. The impact of COVID-19 and other catastrophes only make the challenges even more severe. Consequently, I commend Sudan for dedicating financial resources to compensate its victims and pay for its prior misdeeds.  

A stable Sudan run by a civilian-led government that rejects support for terrorist activity is welcome not only to the U.S. but also to Sudan’s neighbors. Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are all very interested in Sudanese progress on these fronts, as are its east and southern neighbors, Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya.   

It is imperative that the Trump administration and Congress act swiftly to take advantage of this golden opportunity to finalize the bilateral settlement agreement with Sudan. This agreement will help to provide just compensation to Sudan’s victims of terrorism, and it advances U.S. national security interests. 

We must act now. Time is not on our side.   

Jendayi Elizabeth Frazer is the president and CEO of 50 Ventures, LLC and an adjunct senior fellow for Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is the former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and a former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa. Follow her on Twitter @JendayiFrazer.

Tags Al Qaeda Sudan Sudan–United States relations

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