Sudan closing Hamas and Hezbollah offices in bid for U.S. sanctions relief

Sudan closing Hamas and Hezbollah offices in bid for U.S. sanctions relief
© MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images

Sudan will shutter the offices of Hamas and Hezbollah as part of its efforts to rebuild relations with the U.S. and get sanctions lifted. 

The government of Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is expected to announce at some point the action against the two groups, both considered terrorist organizations by the U.S, according to a source close to the government.

The move was first reported by the U.K.-based online news organization Middle East Eye and comes as Sudan's interim civilian and military government works towards developing democracy in the East African country.

ADVERTISEMENT

Renouncing support for terrorism organizations and taking steps to disrupt their operations is one of a number of steps Sudan’s recently inaugurated government is taking to satisfy requirements to be removed from U.S. designation of a State Sponsor of Terrorism. 

Sudan shares the designation with three other countries – North Korea, Iran and Syria – and is therefore subject to crippling sanctions that are meant to isolate it from the international economy.

Hamdok was sworn in as Sudan’s new prime minister in August, following a grassroots and popular revolution that led to the overthrow of long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of genocide and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. 

The closing of the Hamas and Hezbollah offices follows Hamdok’s trip to Washington earlier this month, where Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Lawmakers tear into Pentagon over .8B for border wall | Dems offer bill to reverse Trump on wall funding | Senators urge UN to restore Iran sanctions Former Laura Bush staffer decries Taliban's treatment of women amid peace deal Bipartisan Senate resolution would urge UN to renew Iran arms embargo, travel restrictions MORE said that the U.S. is prepared to elevate relations with Sudan by exchanging ambassadors for the first time in over two decades.

But the office closures are likely largely symbolic, said Cameron Hudson, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council Africa Center, given that Hamas and Hezbollah operations have been dormant in the country for years.

“The announcement that they are formally closing the offices suggests to me that they were essentially dormant, although not formally closed,” he said.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Trump Administration partially lifted sanctions against Sudan in 2017. Hudson said that during that time the Bashir regime was asked to renounce support for Hezbollah and Hamas.

The State Department wrote in its 2018 Country assessment on Terrorism that Sudan had made commitments that it no longer supported Hamas, Hezbollah or any terrorist organization and that Sudan “has taken some steps to work with the United States on counterterrorism.”

Announcing formal closure of the offices of the two organizations suggests “that the Sudanese government is crossing T’s and dotting I’s to make sure that every request that has been stipulated in the past, has been made good on now to get off the U.S. terrorism list,” Hudson said.  

During his trip to Washington, Hamdok said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that Sudan is “weeks” away from fulfilling all obligations necessary to be removed from the State Sponsor Terrorism list, with outstanding issues being cooperating with the U.S. on combatting terrorism and paying compensation to victims and families of victims of terrorist attacks.

These include the 1998 bombings on U.S. embassy’s in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen. 

The FBI determined that Al Qaeda was responsible for the attacks but a U.S. court ruled that Sudan financed and harbored the terrorists, and ordered the country to pay over $11 billion to the victims. 

Hamdok told journalists in Khartoum that he negotiated with U.S. government officials to bring that amount down to “hundreds of millions.”

The State Department said in a statement to The Hill that it doesn’t comment on the process of rescinding the State Sponsor of Terrorism designation but is engaged in “active discussions” with Sudan.