US says Sudan to normalize ties with Israel, in new breakthrough for Trump

President Donald Trump speaks while on a phone call with leaders of Sudan and Israel in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP)
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Updated 23 October 2020

US says Sudan to normalize ties with Israel, in new breakthrough for Trump

  • The deal delivers a foreign policy achievement for Trump just days before the US election
  • He announced the agreement after formally moving to end the nation's designation of a state sponsor of terrorism

WASHINGTON: Sudan on Friday agreed to be the latest Arab nation to recognize Israel, President Donald Trump announced in a new diplomatic coup for him days before US elections.
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed an accord at the White House last month to normalize relations with Israel but Sudan is arguably more significant as an Arab nation that has been at war with Israel.
Trump announced the agreement by Sudan's year-old civilian-backed government moments after he formally moved to end the nation's designation of a state sponsor of terrorism, which was a major goal for Khartoum.

Reporters were escorted into the Oval Office where Trump was on speakerphone with Sudan's leadership and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of the embattled Republican president.
"We are expanding their circle of peace so rapidly with your leadership," Netanyahu was heard saying.
Trump said: "There are many, many more coming."
A senior Trump aide, Judd Deere, said that Sudan and Israel "have agreed to the normalization of relations."

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said on Friday he welcomed joint efforts by Sudan, the United States and Israel to normalise ties between Tel Aviv and Khartoum.
"I welcome the joint efforts of the United States, Sudan and Israel to normalize relations between Sudan and Israel and I value all efforts aimed at establishing regional peace and stability," Sisi said in a tweet. 

As part of the deal to get off the terror blacklist, the White House said that Sudan's transitional government had deposited $335 million to compensate survivors and family members of anti-US attacks that took place when former dictator Omar Al-Bashir welcomed Al-Qaeda.
"Today represents a momentous step forward in the United States-Sudan bilateral relationship and marks a pivotal turning point for Sudan," a White House statement said.
The deal with Sudan allows "for a new future of collaboration and support for its ongoing and historic democratic transition," it said.
Sudan's civilian prime minister, Abdulla Hamdok, thanked Trump on Twitter without mentioning recognition of Israel - a step he had earlier said he was not empowered to take.
"We're working closely with the US administration & Congress to conclude the SSTL removal process in a timely manner," Hamdok said, referring to the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
In Khartoum, a government source said that the call involved Trump, Hamdok, Netanyahu and Sudan's top general, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.

Trump had announced his plan to delist Sudan on Monday through Twitter. But in the days before he formally took the move, Israel sent a delegation to Khartoum to discuss normalization.
Trump, who is trailing in the polls ahead of the November 3 vote, has used his leverage over Sudan to press for recognition of Israel.


Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.