Credit: GIN photo

The U.S. has now conditioned the lifting of painful sanctions on Sudan agreeing to Washington’s Middle East agenda and to normalizing relations with Israel.

If Sudan agrees before U.S. elections in November, sanctions could be lifted, opening the floodgates to desperately needed investment for this economically stressed corner of Africa.

This 11th hour demand issued by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was met with frustration by local leaders and experts.

Amjed Farid, assistant chief of staff for Sudan’s prime minister, admitted that the economy is in shambles. Sudan can’t even get COVID aid from international institutions. U.S. sanctions have blocked all transactions using U.S. currency or products, impeding any business with operations in the U.S. from trading with Sudan.

Cameron Hudson of the Atlantic Council, an American thinktank in the field of international affairs, called it a “strategic blunder of enormous proportions.” Sudan’s democratic transition is fragile, he said, and by making more demands, the U.S. could miss this chance to have a real partner in a dangerous neighborhood.

Sudan’s transitional government has been negotiating for the removal of sanctions for more than a year. They have agreed to compensate families of the U.S. sailors who died in the bombing of the USS Cole, as well as those of victims of terrorist attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. But the Congress has not yet passed the necessary legislation. Plus, many victims not part of any lawsuits are being left out, said Prudence Bushnell, ambassador to Kenya at the time, and Americans will receive more compensation than African victims.

“It’s frustrating to see Pompeo focused on getting Sudan to recognize Israel,” Bushnell told NPR.

Now, however, some top Sudanese military leaders are urging approval of the Israeli ties.

“Whether we like it or not, the removal [of Sudan from the terror list] is tied to [normalization] with Israel,” Sudanese Gen. Mohammed Dagalo said in a press interview.

“We need Israel…Israel is a developed country and the whole world is working with it,” he said. “We will have benefits from such relations…We hope all look at Sudan’s interests.”

Such comments would have been unthinkable until recently in a country where public hostility toward Israel remains strong.