Five points attract one's attention while reading the testimony of ambassador Princeton Lyman, the former US Special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan. The testimony titled "The Questionable Case for Easing Sudan Sanctions", was delivered before the House subcommittee on Africa last week.
The first point to notice is his emphasis on the role of Sudan as 'a major country in the region', not only the Horn of Africa, but in the north as well as the Sahel of Africa. In addition to the fact that Sudan is a key player in the crisis of South Sudan.
The second point he emphasized is that the Sudan government is not collapsing despite sanctions and its internal problems. Moreover, he added that if the government is forcefully overthrown that, "would not achieve US fundamental objectives," and would not produce peace and democracy.
He then turned to the opposition pointing out that better humanitarian relief and serious dialogue does not depend on the government alone, but on opposition as well. He went into detail that JEM is fighting in South Sudan, while Sudan Liberation Movement/Minnawi is involved in Libya more than in Darfur and that the three leaders of the Darfur rebel movements live in Paris, a sign of general weakness. He lashed equally at the SPLM-N that has been, "as obstructive of an agreement on humanitarian access. . . as the government of Sudan." Besides its internal splits and its inability to resist becoming involved in South Sudan conflict.
Lyman then touched on the five benchmarks adopted by the Obama administration describing them as limited through they managed to make an opening. He pointed out that the Lord's Resistance Army is fading away as both the US and Uganda have almost dropped the issue. The third benchmark of not meddling in South Sudan affairs awaits a more intensive international effort to make peace there. On the two internal issues of humanitarian access and the ceasefire he pointed out that limited progress has been achieved for the first and the second is holding mainly though there are violations.
He added that easing of sanctions has made an opening and provides an opportunity to resume a comprehensive US-Sudan dialogue that has not been carried out since 2013. On this he pointed out that sanctions can be a leverage, but only if they are not static. They should be used to bring about a commitment by both the government and opposition to engage into a serious dialogue. On the next step he suggested that issues of freedom of expression and political activity should be part of the deal, more engagement with rebels telling them that their disarray and internal disputes are not helping. He went step further to advise advocacy groups who are in contact with opposition to advise them on their, "misdirected policies". And finally he advised the House to look into USAID to allow it operate all over Sudan in areas like agriculture, education, health and so on; to work through its programs like public-private partnership, support Sudanese NGOs and use these and other tools as another way of sanctions leverage through taking steps to make economic as well as political openings.
It is interesting that he declined to speak about intelligence cooperation and avoided touching on the Pentagon stand. A significant shift took place more than two weeks ago when the Sudanese army chief of staff was invited for the first time since AFRICOM was established seven years ago to attend ITS meeting in Stuttgart, Germany.
However, with the Trump administration interested more in combatting terrorism and standing up to Iran, issues of human rights and democratic transformation take a place seat, it seems. Moreover, the State Department, which should be coordinating a comprehensive Sudan policy seems to be sidelined, not only on Sudan issue alone, but her very role in crafting the US foreign policy in general. Its top positions remain vacant and even the choice for the number two man in the department was turned down by Trump, who slashed foreign aid budget drastically.
In fact and as far as US policy towards Sudan is concerned, the track record shows that the State Department was usually the weakest player among others. That policy used to be dictated more or less by lobbyists, advocacy groups and activists more than professional diplomats.
It remains to be seen whether the Pentagon and the CIA will lead the way this time.