By KHALED TIJANI
KHARTOUM, Sudan, Nov 03, 2004 (UPI) — Sudan’s government was praying for the re-election of U.S. President George. W. Bush and the return of his Republican administration, dreading the idea of having to deal again with the Democrats.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir who lived through four American administrations, two Republican and two Democrat, knows very well where his preference goes, since his experience with the Democratic administrations of former President Bill Clinton was not a happy one.
Bashir who came to power in a coup d’etat in 1989 had to deal first with the administration of George Bush Sr. who then stopped humanitarian assistance to Sudan upon a congressional decision to ban dealings with military governments.
But Bush Sr. refrained from treating Sudan harshly even when the latter sided with former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein when his troops invaded neighboring Kuwait and were later evicted by a U.S.-led coalition.
Bashir started to have serious troubles with Washington only when Clinton’s Democrat administration arrived in the White House in 1993.
A few months later, notably in August, Sudan was included in the U.S. list of seven rogue states which comprised Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Libya and Iraq.
The gap with Washington further widened as a result of the civil war in southern Sudan which the United States tried to portray as a sectarian and ethnic struggle between the government-held Muslim Arab north and the rebel-held mainly Christian and Animist south.
But a breaking point in Sudanese-U.S. relations occurred in 1995 when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak survived an assassination attempt in Addis Ababa for which Sudan was blamed.
Clinton’s administration was quick to use the incident for increasing pressures on Khartoum.
The U.N. Security Council passed at U.S. behest a resolution providing for imposing sanctions on the Sudanese government unless it handed over the perpetrators of the aborted attempt against Mubarak.
Khartoum, which denied any involvement in the attempt, could not escape the international sanctions under which it reeled for a long time.
Washington took further escalatory moves when it closed its embassy in Khartoum and moved it to Nairobi citing security reasons.
At this point, Khartoum became aware of the dangerous fallout of its enmity with Washington and started taking reconciliatory moves by reducing its support for anti-U.S. activists, including al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden whom it evicted after giving him shelter for several years.
But Khartoum’s overtures failed to convince Clinton’s administration to cooperate with Bashir’s government.
In fact, Washington opted for the policy of containment and isolation against Sudan and at the same time increased its support to the Sudanese armed resistance seeking to oust Bahsir’s regime.
Washington also backed a three-way attack against Sudan in 1997 by Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda.
In November 1997, Clinton’s administration imposed economic sanctions on Sudan while the Sudanese government was holding peace negotiations with southern rebels led by John Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army.
But the confrontation reached its climax during Clinton’s second mandate when U.S. warships in the Red Sea attacked with Cruz missiles al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in the heart of Khartoum in August 1998, under the pretext that it was owned by bin Laden and produced chemical weapons.
The attack on Kartoum was also in retaliation to the twin bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salam which occurred earlier in the same month.
Until the end of his second mandate in 2000, Clinton not only remained adamantly opposed to any kind of rapprochement with Sudan, but spared no effort to further isolate the African-Arab country at both regional and international levels.
Khartoum was relieved with the arrival of a new Republican administration to the White House led by President George W. Bush in 2001.
Only a few weeks later, the Center of Political and Strategic Studies in Washington recommended a change in U.S. policy towards Sudan based on interaction rather than containment and isolation.
Khartoum quickly responded to the new U.S. approach and intelligence cooperation started between the two sides in May 2001 under which Sudan provided Washington with important information on groups it accuses of terrorism.
Cooperation was not limited to combating terrorism, as Washington revived its diplomatic presence in Khartoum and enrolled in international efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Sudanese civil war.
Former Sen. John Davenforth was appointed by Bush as special peace envoy to Sudan.
Within two years of Sudanese peace negotiations, U.S. sponsorship proved to be decisive in helping the two warring sides to reach a framework agreement for peace. A final peace accord is yet to be signed, tentatively by the end of December.
Bush rewarded Sudan for its cooperation by approving the cancellation of U.N. sanctions imposed since 1996, though he maintained unilateral U.S. sanctions.
But the Sudanese government was disappointed by Washington’s reluctance to re-establish normal bilateral relations.
Sudan was stunned later when Washington took a heavy-handed stance on crisis in Darfur in Western Sudan, where pro-government Arab militias are accused of committing ethnic genocide against African tribes.
In fact, Sudan did not expect the tough U.S. position which linked improving relations to a quick settlement of the Darfur crisis and placed it once again under the threat of U.N. Security Council sanctions.
A recent U.N. resolution threatened sanctions against Sudan if it failed to settle the Darfur crisis within a short deadline.
Despite that, the ruling elite in Khartoum prefers a Republicans in the White House because it is seen as not as harsh as the Democrats.