13 July 2017

Sudan: Govt Freezes Talks With U.S. After Delay in Lifting Sanctions

Photo: Morgan Mbabazi/The East African
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir is freezing all negotiations with the United States following President Donald Trump's postponing of a final decision on whether to permanently lift economic sanctions against Sudan for another three months, state media reported.

"President of the republic Omar al-Bashir issued a presidential decree ordering the suspension of the committee that was negotiating with the United States" over the lifting of sanctions, the official news agency SUNA said, quoting a presidential decree issued by Bashir.

President Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, signed an executive order before leaving office in January that temporarily lifted some sanctions on the central African nation for six months. Trump was facing a Wednesday deadline imposed by Obama that would have made his decision permanent.

Instead, Trump signed a new order on Tuesday that extends the temporary period until October 12.

"The administration recognizes Sudan has made significant progress in these areas in the last six months... but the administration decided it needed more time to review Sudan's actions," a senior state department official said on a press call Wednesday.

During the review period, U.S. officials are authorized to review Sudan's imports and exports and engage in transactions related to government property in Sudan, the official added.

The sanctions were first imposed in 1997 after the U.S. labelled Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism for allowing al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden to live in the capital, Khartoum. Further sanctions were added in reaction to allegations of human rights abuses carried out by government forces against ethnic minority rebels in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region.

Obama imposed a series of benchmarks Sudan had to meet in exchange for permanently lifting the sanctions, including resolving the conflict in Darfur, improving access to humanitarian workers in conflict areas and cooperating with the United States on counterterrorism.

But human right activists, as well as a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, have urged the Trump administration to keep the sanctions in place, citing a lack of key personnel at the State Department and National Security Council that could fully evaluate the issue.

"We remain deeply committed to engagement with the GOS [Government of Sudan] and working toward further progress on achieving a sustainable peace in Sudan," said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert in a written statement.

Even if the sanctions are permanently lifted, Sudan would still be designated as state sponsor of terror, and other sanctions on President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide related to the Darfur conflict, would remain in place.

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