By the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The United States and Sudan have agreed to upgrade their diplomatic ties by exchanging ambassadors for the first time in more than two decades, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the University of Louisville McConnell Center’s Distinguished Speaker Series in Louisville, Ky., Monday, Dec. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley/MANILA BULLETIN)

The announcement of a return to ambassadorial-level representation after 23 years came as Sudan’s new prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, wrapped up his first visit to Washington. He met senior administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Mark Green, head of the US Agency for International Development.

“This decision is a meaningful step forward in strengthening the US-Sudan bilateral relationship, particularly as the civilian-led transitional government works to implement the vast reforms under the political agreement and constitutional declaration” from August, Pompeo said in a statement.

Hamdok was in Washington seeking support for Sudan’s transition toward democracy since the ouster of strongman Omar al-Bashir amid widespread protests against his rule. One of Hamdok’s priorities has been to win Sudan’s removal from the US “state sponsor of terrorism” blacklist; Sudan has been listed since 1993.

Pompeo praised Hamdok for installing a civilian cabinet, making key personnel changes and committing to democratic elections after a transition period. Pompeo did not address the terrorism designation, which subjects Sudan to US sanctions. Administration officials say Sudan is making progress in meeting the criteria for removal but has not met all conditions.

The US has not been represented by an ambassador in Khartoum since 1996 when it closed the US Embassy, citing terrorism concerns. It reopened in 2002 but has been run since then by a charge d’affaires rather than a Senate-confirmed ambassador.