The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says he will continue to oppose proposed legislation that would immunize Sudan from all future terror lawsuits in US courts.
“Let me just say, I will oppose any Sudan legislation that fails to preserve and protect the 9/11 claims to make sure that 9/11 families are not stomped upon by the administration, and I hope the State Department will reluctantly come along,” Menendez told the committee during a hearing Tuesday.
Why it matters: Menendez is one of the senior lawmakers opposing a bipartisan effort to insert a resolution that would immunize Sudan from future terror lawsuits in US courts into legislation that funds the US government by the end of September.
More importantly, the resolution would enshrine a deal in which Sudan must pay $335 million toward a settlement to compensate families of the victims of the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and allow the money be distributed once put into escrow by officials in Khartoum.
Sudan underwent a popular revolution last year that ousted longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir, and has cooperated with conditions previously set out by the United States for it to be removed from the terror sponsors’ list. But lawyers representing 9/11 victims’ families have urged some lawmakers not to go along with efforts to delist Sudan, arguing that their clients must retain the right to seek damages due to the previous Sudanese government's alleged links to al-Qaeda.
Complicating matters, Menendez’s insistence comes as the Donald Trump administration is urgently pushing to remove Sudan from the blacklist in hope in hope of coaxing officials in Khartoum to establish formal ties with Israel ahead of President Trump’s reelection bid in November.
Pompeo sent a letter to senior lawmakers last week urging they advance the proposed measure by the “narrow window” offered by government funding legislation at the end of September.
What’s next: It is unlikely Congress will make the Oct. 1 deadline, and the Trump administration has the authority to delist Sudan unilaterally, without legislation designed to ensure the embassy bombing victims’ families get paid. The New York Times reported today that Pompeo is willing to do just that.
But Sudanese-US negotiations over a potential deal to delist Sudan and see Khartoum recognize Israel made little headway earlier this week. A delegation led by the chairman of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council, Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, in Abu Dhabi repeated a request for billions of dollars in emergency aid amid Sudan's crippling economic crisis.
It is not clear the United States or Gulf partners are prepared to find the cash, and the Sudanese delegation declined alternative offers put forth by US and United Arab Emirates' officials.