It has been quite a long time since Sudan received attention from a notable US think tank. In fact it was back in 2001 that the Center of Strategic and International Studies issued its extensive report advising the United States on how to end war in Sudan. That report was adopted by the Bush administration and became the cornerstone for its policy on Sudan that continued through major part of the Obama administration. And since then it was mainly the advocacy and lobby groups that have been following developments in Sudan.
Last year the Washington-based Atlantic Council took the initiative and worked for 18 months on its report on re-engagement with Sudan that came out on the eve of the Trump administration decision on sanctions on Sudan. And it emphasized the points of mutual interest of the two countries can prevail and emphasizing the strategic position of Sudan that requires bypassing the view, long established in Washington, to look at Sudan through the prism of South Sudan. Moreover, it emphasized the point that Sudan is a young country with 22 million, or 60 percent of its population under the age of 24.
Earlier this month the council issued three Issue Briefs on Sudan following a visit, the third in two years, of its task force. The briefs covered the economy, the use of soft power and political engagement and reform. The task force composed of among others of two former ambassadors Tim Carney, the last senate-confirmed ambassador to work in Sudan and Mary Carlin Yates, who was charge d'Affaires during the sensitive period of 2011/2012 when South Sudan separated.
In their briefs the authors recommended that Washington adopt a broader view for its relation with Sudan than simply restricting it to the counter terrorism issue. It again highlighted the strategic location of Sudan and its link between Africa and the Arab world and more important the US needs to compensate for the two decades lost time of sanctions as other players like China, Russia and Turkey are already around extending their hands to Khartoum.
The briefs went on to suggest a time table plan by initiating the process to remove Sudan from the list of States Sponsoring Terrorism (SST) through an agreed upon mechanism. Once that is cleared, the administration should notify the Congress of its decision to remove Sudan from the list. This will open the way for debt relief, which will be a big boost for the country's economy.
In the meantime the briefs emphasize the need to engage on people-to-people relationship and invest as much as possible in the younger generations that have not been exposed to American culture because of sanctions and isolation as Sudan future leadership will come from this generation.
These briefs are timely since it has been announced before that this month will witness the start of the second phase of the Sudan-US dialogue, which should focus on removing Sudan from SST.
Reports by such think tanks carry a significant weight as they are prepared by experts who have first-hand knowledge of the country like the diplomats who worked before in Sudan. Moreover, they were under no work pressure like those who occupy official positions though they may join this or that administration as the revolving door tradition of Washington shows.
However, such activity needs to be matched by something similar, if not more aggressive from the Sudanese side. But so far the council and its activities have not received yet the due attention it deserves. In an open society like the United States, it is not enough to restrict the dealings through the diplomatic channels only. A great deal of effort needs to be exerted in lectures, think tanks, writing essays in major newspapers, arts museums and easing entry and encouraging American businesses to re-establish relationship with Sudan. With the private sector in Sudan taking more and more responsibility in planning and execution of economic programs that aim at increasing production to narrow the yawning gap in balance of payments, its need for American technology, investments and expertise will be on the rise.
The Atlantic Council is adopting a more positive approach in dealing with Sudan, and it is doing that out of pure calculation of interest and serious look at common ground for that interest to base the relations between the two countries on it. And Sudan needs to match that effort.