Trump official visits Khartoum as US seems poised to end Sudan sanctions

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Despite a delay, Sudanese officials are broadly optimistic that more than 20 years of US sanctions against Sudan will soon end.

Though the United States decided to delay the full lifting of economic sanctions against Sudan until September 12, a number of signs suggest improving relations.

Alexander Laskaris, Deputy Commander of US Africa Command, visited Khartoum last week to discuss joint counter-terrorism concerns and other issues.

The visit comes as the two countries have already agreed to a resumption of defense attaches for the first time since the 1990s this summer.

“The last three years have been very busy but, in the long term, we expect things with the Trump Administration to continue the policy of Obama towards Sudan,” said Sudan’s ambassador to the United States Ambassador Muawiya Othman Khalid.

Khalid previously held diplomatic positions in Cairo and Doha.

Cooperation on counterterrorism

In his last month in office, President Obama removed sanctions on Sudan contingent on certain conditions. The demands include cooperation on counterterrorism as well as sincere Sudanese efforts to end internal conflicts.

“Times have changed in the Sudan, it’s a different country than it was in the early 1990s when it was a known sponsor of terror and the removal of sanctions is a logical consequence of improvements from Sudan,” said former US Senator Robert Torricelli (D-New Jersey) who in the early 1990s as a US congressman worked on legislation tied to Sudan.

Sudan has focused significant diplomatic resources on persuading Washington in recent months.

Sudan’s officials and diplomats have been frequent visitors to Washington. They have been consistently making the case to the new administration that Sudan is a strong partner in the war on terror and regional security concerns.

In June, the government hired the public relations firm Squire Patton Boggs to lobby on behalf of Khartoum.

Sudan’s Finance Minister and Speaker of the Parliament and a host of other officials have visited Washington in recent months to make their case.

Some remain unconvinced

Those supporting continued sanctions include an unlikely alliance of lobbyists, evangelical Christian groups, and Hollywood stars like George Clooney and others who remain unconvinced with Sudan’s shift in policies is enough to warrant the end of sanctions.

The United States isn’t the only country which is experiencing a new political leadership.

Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has announced plans to step down from office in 2020 as part of a slow shuffle towards a more inclusive and multi-party political system.

This year Sudan named Hassan Saleh its first Prime Minister in 28 years, and a cabinet reshuffle brought new faces to his cabinet.

The reforms are part of a National Dialogue and peace process which began in 2014 and have mostly ended the conflict in Darfur. But in the Nuba mountains, despite peace efforts, conflict still simmers.

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As a result of these reforms, Ibrahim Ahmed Omer who served as Sudan’s speaker of parliament for over a decade was made to retire by the ruling National Congress Party. In a swan-song appearance at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., Omer pointed out that sanctions mean the United States is missing out on economic opportunities in Sudan.

“Capitalism, as they say, is a court investor and won’t come unless money is safe and the experience of these other countries show that the money is safe,” he said. “…the West should lift all sanctions on the Sudanese people in order to end poverty and improve the economic situation it is losing,” he said.

Omer noted that despite sanctions, China, Indonesia, and Malaysia and Arab countries have been investing in Sudanese the gold, precious minerals, and oil sectors for years.

Sudanese officials have grown tired of working closely with Chinese officials. According to one source, Chinese officials have vastly under-reported gold excavations in Sudan to avoid paying certain taxes.

The decision to continue the review period for a further three months is frustrating for Sudan.

As made clear, the country has worked hard to fulfil the American demands and believes it is in full compliance with the demands to lift sanctions.

Dealers in a currency exchange house in Khartoum. (File photo: Reuters)
Dealers in a currency exchange house in Khartoum. (File photo: Reuters)

Bader Eldin Mahmoud Abbas Mukhtar, Sudan’s Minister of Finance until May, is quick to point out that Sudan has worked hard to reach its current position.

“To maintain this favorable position, Sudan is working to prove its compliance with US directions regarding anti-terrorism issues, finance, and anti-money laundering. We are cooperating on all standards, rules and regulations and we have created organs to supervise transactions in the stock exchange and real estate, and we are always improving these regulatory efforts,” he said during his final interview while in office.

Combating money laundering

The Minister also revealed to the Financial Action Task Force (on Money Laundering) an intergovernmental organization, the Sudan is committed to combating money laundering.

The United States’ decision to restore relations was partly due to Khartoum's dramatic diplomatic shift regarding Tehran. After Damascus, Khartoum was long viewed as Iran’s biggest ally in the Arab world. That policy has changed over the last decade as Sudan has slowly broken away from the Iranian camp.

That shift has been most visible in the ongoing conflict in Yemen. Sudan has been one of the largest military contributors to the operation.

“Does Sudan have issues it needs to work on? Of course, but it is going to be easier for the United States when sanctions are lifted. Sudan is a different country than when the sanctions were imposed,” said a US diplomat who spoke off the record due to the sensitivity of the matter.

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