The recently released report by the Atlantic Council "Sudan: A Strategy for Re-Engagement", represents a positive development that could pave the way for a major shift on US policy towards Sudan provided that decision makers in Khartoum grasp this opportunity and build on it for long standing bilateral relationship based on mutual interest and beyond the current pressing issue of lifting the sanctions and removing Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism.
Atlantic Council, which was founded in 1961 as a bipartisan institution, is one of those think tanks that provide various administrations with policy options as well as senior staff. James Jones President Barak Obama's first national security advisor was the council chairman as well as Brent Scowcroft, Susan Rice, Chuck Hagel and others who held senior positions in republican as well as democratic administrations, were all related to the Atlantic Council in one way or other.
The last time such an institutions released a study was 16 years ago when the Center for Strategic and International Studies released its report on Sudan, better known with its bottom finding "One State, Two Systems" as a compromise to settle the civil war that has been engulfing the country. Shortly after taking office as Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner flew to Nairobi to meet John Garang, the SPLM rebel leader and got his approval to one of the report key recommendations that instead of fighting to block oil production and export, the SPLM should get into serious peace talks and share the oil revenues instead. Garang's agreeing to the proposal opened the way for the peace talks that culminated with signing the CPA in 2005.
The 34-page report took 18 months of research and field trip to compose. More important, most of the 7-members team who wrote the report have all first-hand knowledge of Sudan like Princeton Lyman who was Special Envoy to Sudan, Jerry Lanier and Mary Carlin Yates, both were Charge d'Affaires in Sudan at one point.
The report was critical of the two decades sanctions that produced no tangible results in furthering US interests and at the time they inflicted suffering on ordinary Sudanese people and had the negative result of providing the government with a scape goat. The report is probably the first American study that takes this point into consideration.
Instead the authors argue for positive engagement and that lifting of sanctions should be a first step in a long road to put bilateral relations between the two countries on a new keel. On this aspect, the authors highlighted Sudan geostrategic position and its relations to both Arab and African worlds. It cited Sudan hosting of some 375,000 refugees from South Sudan and 100, 000 from Syria as a demonstration of this fact and emphasized this point to replace the current view of looking at Sudan through the prism of South Sudan.
Moreover, given the drought and hunger that has hit parts of South Sudan, Somalia, the extension of state of emergency in Ethiopia and brewing regional tension because of the Renaissance Dam, the upcoming Kenyan presidential elections all highlight tension in the region and the relative stability of Sudan gives it an additional importance.
One of the salient points of the reports is its emphasis on youth where it said some 22 million are under the age of 24 and that US needs to engage with them to win their hearts and minds and not to be left to other players with different agenda.
The report concluded with specific 18 recommendations like appointing a congress approved ambassador, lifting Sudan from the terrorist list and even from the travel ban introduced by President Trump.
Sudan needs to take this report seriously, grasp the opportunity and craft an action plan to make use of it to make a breakthrough in the American arena. It is not that common to have a credible document by credible authors with good connections to lay the ground for a positive engagement between the two countries. For long US policy towards Sudan has been influenced by activists and lobbyists, while professional diplomats were taking the back seat.
The Atlantic Council report breaks new grounds, but unless it is adopted to be a base for an official policy it will be yet another report placed in the archives. It is up to Sudan to utilize whatever resources and contacts it has to make the much needed difference.
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