Africa: United States to Lift Sudan Sanctions
BY JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
LONDON (New York Times) — After nearly 20 years of hostile relations, the American government plans to reverse its position on Sudan and lift trade sanctions, Obama administration officials said late Thursday.
Sudan is one of the poorest, most isolated and most violent countries in Africa, and for years the United States has imposed punitive measures against it in a largely unsuccessful attempt to get the Sudanese government to stop killing its own people.
On Friday, the Obama administration will announce a new Sudan strategy. For the first time since the 1990s, the nation will be able to trade extensively with the United States, allowing it to buy goods like tractors and spare parts and attract much-needed investment in its collapsing economy.
In return, Sudan will improve access for aid groups, stop supporting rebels in neighboring South Sudan, cease the bombing of insurgent territory and cooperate with American intelligence agents.
American officials said Sudan had already shown important progress on a number of these fronts. But to make sure the progress continues, the executive order that President Obama plans to sign on Friday, days before leaving office, will have a six-month review period. If Sudan fails to live up to its commitments, the embargo can be reinstated.
Analysts said good relations with Sudan could strengthen moderate voices within the country and give the Sudanese government incentives to refrain from the brutal tactics that have defined it for decades.
In 1997, President Bill Clinton imposed a comprehensive trade embargo against Sudan and blocked the assets of the Sudanese government, which was suspected of sponsoring international terrorism. In the mid-1990s, Osama bin Laden lived in Khartoum, the capital, as a guest of Sudan’s government.
In 1998, Bin Laden’s agents blew up the United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 200 people. In retaliation, Mr. Clinton ordered a cruise missile strike against a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum.
Since then, American-Sudanese relations have steadily soured. The conflict in Darfur, a vast desert region of western Sudan, was a low point. After rebels in Darfur staged an uprising in 2003, Sudanese security services and their militia allies slaughtered tens of thousands of civilians, leading to condemnation around the world, genocide charges at the International Criminal Court against Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, and a new round of American sanctions.
American officials said Thursday that the American demand that Mr. Bashir be held accountable had not changed. Neither has Sudan’s status as one of the few countries, along with Iran and Syria, that remain on the American government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Sales of military equipment will still be prohibited, and some Sudanese militia and rebel leaders will still face sanctions.
But the Obama administration is clearly trying to open a door to Sudan. There is intense discontent across the country, and its economy is imploding. American officials have argued for years that it was time to help Sudan dig itself out of the hole it had created.
Officials divulged Thursday that the Sudanese government had allowed two visits by American operatives to a restricted border area near Libya, which they cited as evidence of a new spirit of cooperation on counterterrorism efforts.
In addition to continuing violence in Darfur, several other serious conflicts are raging in southern and central Sudan, along with a civil war in newly independent South Sudan, which Sudan has been suspected of inflaming with covert arms shipments.
Eric Reeves, one of the leading American academic voices on Sudan, said he was “appalled” that the American government was lifting sanctions.
He said that Sudan’s military-dominated government continued to commit grave human rights abuses and atrocities, and he noted that just last week Sudanese security services killed more than 10 civilians in Darfur.
“There is no reason to believe the guys in charge have changed their stripes,” said Mr. Reeves, a senior fellow at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. “These guys are the worst of the worst.”
Obama administration officials said that they had briefed President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition team, but that they did not know if Mr. Trump would stick with a policy of warmer relations with Sudan.
They said that Sudan had a long way to go in terms of respecting human rights, but that better relations could help increase American leverage.
Mr. Reeves said he thought that the American government was being manipulated and that the Obama administration had made a “deal with the devil.”
On Progress in Sudan
Deputy Department Spokesperson
Six months ago, the United States began a comprehensive engagement plan with the Government of Sudan aimed at ending the government’s offensive military operations, improving humanitarian access, ending Sudan’s destabilizing role in South Sudan, countering terrorist groups, and ending the threat of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Since then, Sudan has met our benchmarks and made significant progress toward these goals, as well as new commitments. As a result, the United States has decided to issue a General License lifting sanctions on U.S. trade and investment in Sudan. This is being done through a combination of actions, including immediate action by the Department of the Treasury to authorize expanded trade with and investment in Sudan, and the issuance by the President of an Executive Order that provides Sudan with a clear path to the permanent revocation of sanctions in six months if progress in these five areas continues. In addition, a number of waivers of statutory sanctions are needed to allow for this lifting of sanctions. Thus, the Secretary of State is waiving sanctions under the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2006 today, while the Executive Order issued today by the President includes waivers under the Comprehensive Peace in Sudan Act of 2004 and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000.
Our engagement with Sudan under the plan has had multiple benefits for U.S. interests, the region, and the people of Sudan. It has had a positive effect on reducing conflict and addressing Sudan’s humanitarian crisis. For example, in December, Sudan revised national regulations that govern humanitarian action, bringing them into line with international standards for the first time. Moreover, for the first time in five years, Sudan opened access for humanitarian aircraft to reach Golo, Central Darfur, and allowed a needs assessment to occur that will inform assistance efforts in Golo and other previously inaccessible areas. Regionally, Sudan has stopped providing arms to South Sudanese opposition groups, is cooperating with the United States to address the threat of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and has begun working with the United States to combat wildlife trafficking. Finally, Sudan has become an important partner in countering the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL) and other regional terrorist threats.
Despite these advances, there is still much more to be done to end Sudan’s internal conflicts, ensure accountability for crimes of international concern, improve its human rights record, allow unfettered humanitarian access to vulnerable populations, and create space for greater political participation, civil society activity, and media freedom. The United States sees the progress made over the last six months as the beginning of a longer term process of addressing these critically important issues. While the United States stands ready to reimpose sanctions should there be backsliding, we are encouraged by the progress that has been made over the past six months, and will seek to build on this as we pursue important issues.