The Political Climate
Sudan and the United States enjoy a long history of friendship and cooperation. Though numerous instances to demonstrate this fact can be sited, perhaps worth recalling is the humanitarian assistance the U.S. has in the past rendered during catastrophic periods of famine and drought in the country. Amongst the latest of its achievements is the peace it helped broker in 2005 that effectively ended the longest-running civil war in Africa. Sudan, for its part, has also been very instrumental in the U.S. war on terrorism, a contribution that the latter has on numerous occasions expressed gratitude. These are but a few examples of fruitful interaction that characterize cordial bilateral relations between the countries. Yet this legacy and potential for gainful cooperation is offset by the policies that the successive U.S. administrations have pursued towards Sudan.
President Obama’s inauguration ushered a new US policy that seemingly marked a clear departure from the hostile posture of its predecessors. It appeared to place emphasis on conciliatory diplomacy. Aggression and hostility towards Sudan is exemplified poignantly in how the conflict in Darfur was labeled as genocide, in US support for ICC and in many other ways. Although the genocide label and ICC support remain on record, by and large, this administration seems to be sensitive to the fact that such remarks can be inflammatory and has thus been frequently understanding and promoting of softer language. Only most recently did the tone and rhetoric begin to pick up pace again.
General Scott Gration’s appointment as full time US Special envoy to Sudan helped consolidate whatever minute policy shift that was. His personal predispositions infused in how he carried out his responsibilities had a great deal to do with that. He visited Darfur numerously; interacted with officials in Khartoum and South Sudan and was able to gain a firm grasp of the intricacies and complexity of the Sudanese issues. He mediated between parties and interacted with them in an unbiased manner.
The Envoy’s approach and determination showed promise for resolving contentious issues; for example Sanctions, Sudan’s presence on the list of states sponsoring terrorism and sub-optimal bilateral relations. He called for lifting the US imposed unilateral Sanctions. Clearly and rightly, he perceived them as hindrance to national Peace building and peace-making efforts. On this issue, he convened conferences; internally and externally. While his efforts did not yield much fruit, relaxation of trade licenses by the Treasury Department, is a sign in the right direction and creates a sense of cautious optimism. However, Sudan is keen to advocate for complete success.
What the Embassy can and is doing in this regard— The Embassy’s mission in this regard has been continuous engagement in dialogue with the special envoy’s office and other accessible US Institutions, with the Embassy leading the effort and the USSES complementing. We are focused on addressing these challenges. Also removal of the Sudan from the terrorism list draws particular attention. With US recognition of Sudan’s cooperation and relentless fight against terrorism (which we underline at any opportunity as a reminder), Sudan’s continued presence on that list is unjustified and harmful to our interests. For example, the survivors of US Cole, attacked in Yemen, and or the families of the victims have used the presence of Sudan on the terrorism list to siphon her frozen assets in frivolous lawsuits. Effort aimed at achieving this objective cannot be sufficiently stressed.
Unilateral Sanctions, imposed since 1993 following the country’s placement on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism effectively blocked the loans and grants Sudan was eligible for from both the US and the International Financial Institutions (IFI). Aid and developmental assistance including technical, cultural and scientific exchange was halted. Economic cooperation, commodities import and export, except under limited licenses, came to a stop. All forms of cooperation and capacity building opportunities were curtailed. In 1997, the Clinton administration issued an executive order, detailing and entrenching the sanctions. This was again later renewed three more times by the Bush administration in 2004, 2006 and 2007.
With the conclusion of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, the lifting of sanctions promised by the Bush administration as an incentive for this milestone was not fulfilled. The Abuja agreement was also a significant achievement that should have led to the lifting of the sanctions as was yet again promised by that administration. Our high expectations and hope were once more shattered.
In full cooperation and coordination with the office of the US Special envoy General Scott Gration, the Embassy has exerted the necessary effort for lifting them. It is to be remarked that the USSES commitment to lifting economic sanctions is a novelty in Sudan-US relations, deserving particular note and appreciation. The embassy, in full coordination with the Central Ministry of Finance and National Economy and the WB office of Executive Director, has elaborated a detailed action plan towards that goal, debt relief and re-engagement with IFIs. With competent US authorities, sanctions, debt relief or cancellation is a constant agenda item in our bilateral discussions. We are confident that the issue could soon be resolved.
The U.S. legislature/Congress
Most U.S. lawmakers, regardless of the majority in control, are generally and traditionally hostile towards the Sudan. Their rhetoric is tough, but what they practice is what creates the obstacles for any well-meaning administration.
Congress has previously enacted laws negatively impacting Sudan. The Sudan and the Darfur Accountability Act is an example. Amongst others, presidential Advisor Dr Ghazi Salaheldin, during one of his earlier visits to Washington DC, attempted to explore possibilities of mending bilateral relations, but was met with reluctance and indifference. Laws enacted by congress require other laws passed by congress to annul them.
These lawmakers are very close to the Activist, humanitarian aid and media communities which influence and shape US public opinion. In turn their policies are shaped by the opinions of these groups. This is basically to underline the centrality of Congress in the US interaction with itself and the international community.
The Embassy continues to engage the congress in order to provide its members with solid and verifiable facts on Sudan. For example, the Politico, a prominent newspaper widely circulated only on the Hill, is one avenue the embassy has in the past employed to set the record straight and counteract fallacious and slandering propaganda. Meetings with some congress members who are either sympathetic or open to Sudan’s viewpoint is another method at our disposal to connect and re-connect with it. We will continue to enhance these efforts that target lawmakers.
Media, Press and the Activists
The media and the Activists raise awareness by disseminating frequently incorrect/distorted but newsworthy information on Sudan. Their depiction of the events in Sudan has been relentlessly harsh.
There are a number of Activist organizations, e.x “Save Darfur” and the “Enough Project” requiring particular attention and monitoring. It is widely held that they often use the money raised from concerned citizens to publish fear-invoking advertisements (Adds) on the major newspapers such as New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, etc. They also make use of the major television Networks to accomplish such ends. Unless and until we have access to these same papers and information outlets, their messages carry the day.
For our part as an embassy, particularly the Press and Information department, we’ve done a tremendous job fighting the American media onslaught with the meager resources at hand. We write press releases to counter false statements made by these organizations. At the Embassy website, we post updates on current events on a daily basis so as to communicate Sudan’s perspective on matters. We participate in press briefings and conferences in D.C. Lectures and debates in schools, Universities, communities and at churches.
Although these efforts are great, they are not sufficient to counter the volume of erroneous information put out by activists. We need to do allot more to change the hearts and minds of the American citizens and officials.