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U.S. Treasury Secretary Signs Massive Loan Deal With Sudan

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

For decades, Sudan was known as an international pariah state, but officials there have been working to build a democracy since the country's longtime leader was ousted two years ago. Today Sudan got a big boost from the Trump administration after signing a pledge to normalize ties with Israel. NPR's Michele Kelemen has the story.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was the latest administration official to visit Khartoum. And today in an event carried on Sudan state-run television, he and the African nations justice minister signed the Abraham Accords, meant to boost relations between Arab states and Israel.

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STEVEN MNUCHIN: It's a great honor to be here with you today. And I think we'll have a tremendous impact on the people of Israel and the people of Sudan as they continue to work together on cultural and economic opportunities.

KELEMEN: Sudan had already agreed to this, but today it formalized its intent by signing a document with Mnuchin. The Trump administration has convinced three other Arab states to normalize ties with Israel - Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. That's all in exchange for incentives provided by the U.S. In Sudan's case, the U.S. was already seeking to strengthen a shaky new government. Now as part of this deal, it took the African nation that was once home to Osama bin Laden off the state sponsors of terrorism list. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin also announced that the U.S. will help Sudan pay off its debt to the World Bank with a more than $1 billion bridge loan.

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MNUCHIN: That will create significant positive opportunities for Sudan in unlocking significant amounts of funds both at the World Bank, the IMF and at the United States.

HIBA AHMED: (Non-English language spoken).

KELEMEN: Sudan's acting finance minister, Hiba Ahmed, signed the memorandum of understanding with Mnuchin and said this will help Sudan get access to about a billion dollars a year in financing from the World Bank for the first time in nearly three decades. That's good news, says Cameron Hudson, who worked on Sudan at the State Department and is now with the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.

CAMERON HUDSON: It's an economic lifeline that they need. They need to be able to clear their arrears with the World Bank, get themselves on a path towards debt relief so that they can begin to recover the economy and more importantly than that, so that they can demonstrate to the people of Sudan that there is a benefit that comes from rejecting autocratic rule and turning towards democratic governance.

KELEMEN: It's been nearly two years since Sudan's longtime ruler, Omar al-Bashir, was ousted. Since then, the transitional government has struggled to get out from under international sanctions while grappling with a financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Hudson says he's hopeful that the incoming Biden team will follow up on the promises made by the Trump administration.

HUDSON: I think they'll do it for different reasons, though. I think they're not going to do it because they are intent on seeing Sudan normalize its relationship with Israel. I think they're going to do it because providing these loans and this money is the right thing to do to help Sudan and to secure a Democratic partner in a very tumultuous region of the world.

KELEMEN: He says the Trump administration is handing the Biden team a success story, and no new team, he adds, wants to fumble that.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.