Two U.S. lawmakers who sit on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations are offering a compromise with the Trump administration that would clear the way to remove Sudan from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The U.S. State Department has already reached an agreement with Sudan that would provide for Khartoum to financially compensate victims of deadly 1998 and 2000 terror attacks in Africa and the Middle East in exchange for removal of the list and the restoration of its sovereign immunity.
However, some U.S. legislators are threatening to block the deal because it would prevent families of the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States from pursuing their own lawsuit against Sudan.
The compromise proposed Thursday by Senators Chuck Schumer and Bob Menendez, of New York and New Jersey respectively, would amend the State Department deal to leave the door open for the 9/11 lawsuit. The senators are offering the administration a choice of two sets of legislative language to achieve that goal.
In a public statement, the senators say either of their proposals would restore Sudan’s sovereign immunity, protect the claims of 9/11 families, and resolve several international terrorism-related claims against Sudan. The proposals would also “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.”
Under the State Department deal, which needs congressional approval, Sudan agreed to pay $335 million to compensate victims of terror attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 as well as the bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000. Al-Qaida carried out the attacks, but Sudan has been accused of giving safe harbor to the terrorist group.
Andrew Maloney, liaison counsel to a group of September 11 families that sued Sudan and Saudi Arabia, told 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 the Sudan for similar conduct is not in any way jeopardized,” Maloney told VOA.
Maloney and another attorney who represents the thousands of 9/11 victims filed suit against Sudan in 2002, in a case that is still pending in court. Unlike the victims of the other two terror claims against Sudan, Maloney said his clients have yet to get a hearing in court to present their evidence against Sudan. He maintains that his clients have a case that links Sudan to both the attacks in Africa and those on U.S. soil.
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.
In exchange for the deal Sudan reached with the Trump administration, Sudanese officials are expecting blanket immunity against any future terror-related legal claims. 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.
Maloney said the legislation put forward by the two senators “is seeking a compromise to accomplish all of that; that’s what the press release says and we support that as long as they are not depriving the 9/11 families of their rights to obtain justice and compensation from Sudan.”
U.S. lawmakers, who are scheduled to adjourn for the holidays next Friday, are expected to pass legislation on the matter before the end of the year.
A Sudanese diplomatic source in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity and who disapproves of the two senators’ proposal, said talks are still under way among the Trump administration, the State Department and lawmakers.