Since 1993, the US State Department has listed Sudan as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” Since 1997, Sudan has faced a set of economic and political sanctions from the US. President Barack Obama renewed those sanctions in November, as he did in November 2011. Both times, unsurprisingly, the government in Khartoum objected to the decision, charging that Washington wants the sanctions to hurt Sudan’s economy. This year, the Sudanese government suggested that it had fulfilled the conditions necessary for Washington to lift the sanctions:
“The American administration has acknowledged more than once that Sudan has honored its commitments but the American administration, time and again, has withdrawn from its promises … to lift the sanctions,” the foreign ministry said.
Implied in the statement is that by allowing the secession of South Sudan, Khartoum did what Washington wanted it to do.
The State Department suggested that sanctions would remain in place as a means of pressuring Khartoum to make peace with South Sudan and in the new border zones such as South Kordofan, where the Sudanese government is at war with rebels:
In recent years, Sudan has made progress in resolving a number of outstanding issues with South Sudan, which contributes significantly to the prospects for peace between the two countries. However, the ongoing conflict in Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur continue to threaten regional stability, and the human rights and humanitarian crises there – including the lack of humanitarian access – are very serious. Outstanding issues with South Sudan, such as the final status of Abyei, also pose such a threat. Addressing these concerns is necessary for a peaceful Sudan and would enable the United States and Sudan to move towards a normalized relationship.
The issue of sanctions revives a conversation that took place at different points last year among Africa watchers about whether the US has real leverage over Khartoum. A brief conversation that occurred last summer on Twitter between Sudanese blogger Amir Ahmad Nasr and Sudan analyst Bec Hamilton has stuck with me, and I am reminded of it now. Nasr wrote, “There’s leverage. Sudan badly wants relations normalized with US.” Hamilton responded, “Right, but that’s no longer leverage since Khartoum doesn’t believe it will ever happen (and they are probably right).”
Why am I writing about this now, when the sanctions were renewed well over a month ago? Because of a statement on December 16 by the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ spokesperson Al-Obaid Adam Marawih:
Marawih told the pro-government daily Akhbar Al-Yawm* that Sudan’s position on normalizing ties with the U.S. remain clear and unchanged. He elaborated that as long as this issue remains in the hands of lobby groups in the U.S. Congress, Sudan can never hope for any positive results.
“We reiterated this position when we congratulated the U.S. President [Barack Obama] on his re-election for the second term” Marawih said. He added that therefore the issue is “not a priority” for Khartoum in the time being.
Regardless of whether one agrees with Marawih’s idea of the causes for the continued sanctions, his pessimism regarding prospects for normalization – and, assuming he speaks for the government, a broader pessimism in Khartoum regarding this issue – is clear.
*I tried to find the Arabic article but the link to the paper is broken for me.