By Paul Brandus
December 22, 2016 (WASHINGTON) - The Obama administration has no intention to lift sanctions on Sudan despite the growing rumours about a possible decision on this respect, Sudan Tribune has learnt.
- U.S. President Barack Obama signs the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 into law in the Oval Office the White House in Washington on March 29, 2016 (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst Photo)
During the year 2016, the U.S. Special Envoy for the two Sudans Donald Booth worked hard to support the efforts of the African Union mediation team to end the armed conflicts in Darfur and the Two Areas. Multiple sources say President Barak Obama intends to use the sanction to bring Khartoum to make the necessary concessions and to convince the armed opposition groups to sign a peace agreement leading to the removal of the 19-year trade and financial embargo.
Sanctions have been imposed on Sudan by the United States since 1997, when the administration of then-President Bill Clinton began a trade embargo and blocked assets of the Sudanese government. Sanctions have remained for the ensuing two decades, through the presidencies of George W. Bush and Obama.
President Obama himself has not commented publicly on Sudan or the sanctions issue; nor has it come up during press briefings here at White House. This does not mean the president and his advisors have not considered the issue—but the silence thus far can be interpreted as meaning that there has been no change in the administration’s position.
One State Department official, asked about a possible policy change before Obama leaves office was doubtful. The official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said it seemed “quite likely” that the issue will be handed over to the incoming administration of Donald Trump.
Yet the administration has acknowledged efforts by the Sudanese government that suggest a lifting of sanctions is possible. In its annual report on global terrorism, the State Department noted in 2014 that:
"In general, the Government of Sudan appeared to oppose the financing of extremist elements… The Central Bank of Sudan and its financial intelligence unit, renamed the Financial Information Unit in late 2014, circulated to financial institutions a list of individuals and entities that have been included on the UN 1267 sanctions committee’s consolidated list, as well as the US government’s lists of terrorist organizations/financiers. The financing of terrorism per UN Resolution 1373 was criminalized in Sudan pursuant to Sudan’s Money Laundering Act of 2003.
The Government of Sudan continued to cooperate with the Financial Action Task Force and took steps to meet international standards in combating money laundering and terrorist financing. In 2014, Sudan adopted a new Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Terrorism Finance Act and ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption. Sudan’s Central Bank officials did not freeze, seize and/or forfeit assets in 2014. Sudan continued to cooperate with the United States in investigating financial crimes related to terrorism.”
For his part, Trump—who only last week announced his choice for secretary of state—has never commented publicly on Sudan or American sanctions against it. His nominee for State—outgoing ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson—has not commented either. Tillerson’s nomination itself is seen as problematic, given his long ties to Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
Could Trump, once he becomes president, end American sanctions against Sudan? One sign that this may be so—but is far from guaranteed—is the possible appointment of J. Peter Pham as undersecretary of African Affairs.
Pham, currently Director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, has questioned the need for sanctions. In June, Pham, writing on the Council’s website, said the United States needs more—not less—engagement with Sudan. An excerpt of his article:
“America has a number of outstanding issues on which it needs, if anything, to expand its dialogue with Sudan, looking for openings through which to engage both regime interlocutors and representatives of the political opposition, civil society, religious groups, and the private sector. Stubbornly maintaining a nearly generation-old designation whose original justifications have been rendered largely obsolete—if not altogether moot by actual counterterrorism cooperation—seems hardly the most effective way to go about achieving the goals of promoting better mutual understanding and, ultimately, of contributing practical resolutions to pressing domestic and regional conflicts.”
Pham continues: “While US-Sudanese relations have often been difficult in the more than twenty years since the African country was first designated a “state sponsor of terrorism,” it is hard nowadays to convincingly argue that the reasons that motivated that declaration still hold.”
If nominated for the post, Pham would need Senate confirmation, a two-step process. He would first appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and, if approved, face a vote by the full Senate itself.