photo by jon nicholson

feature story - With Friends Like These: Strong Benchmarks for Next Phase of U.S.-Sudan Relations

february 21st, 2018


Note: This report was published by the Enough Project.

The U.S. government’s October 2017 lifting of its comprehensive economic and financial sanctions on Sudan has created the impression that the Sudanese regime of President Omar al-Bashir is evolving into a reliable partner and no longer poses a threat to the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States. This impression is deeply misguided. New circumstances have emerged in Sudan that make U.S. efforts at full normalization dramatically ill-timed. This report attempts to explain those dynamics. If the United States persists in laying out a path to normalization despite the poor timing, below are a series of incentives, pressures, and benchmarks that could potentially contribute to a more constructive process.

Through forthcoming talks with the United States, the Sudanese regime seeks its removal from the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list, one of the last remaining forms of U.S. sanctions on Sudan. This is significant because it would allow Sudan to seek debt relief at a time when its economy is imploding. Yet, as the Sudan government continues its inconsistent charm offensive aimed at U.S. policymakers, serious concerns linger about Sudan’s true commitment to the fight against international terrorism, its disruptive and erratic foreign policy that includes recent overtures to and military agreements with Russia, its continued role as a regional destabilizer, and its ongoing repression of its people and persecution of minority religious groups, including Christians.

As the planning for the next phase of bilateral talks progresses, Sudan has entered a new moment where its spiraling economic crisis, brought about by decades of grand corruption and inept economic policymaking, has come to a head. To accelerate normalization while there is rising evidence that the crumbling economy and increasing government repression are seriously deepening internal fissures within the regime would be severely ill-timed. The regime will need to undertake fundamental reforms to save the country from the consequences of its own kleptocracy. Failure to do so will condemn Sudan to state failure and trigger further regional turmoil and destabilization.

Furthermore, Sudan’s government is taking other extremely troubling policy directions that should give further pause to U.S. policymakers engaged in the process meant to further normalize the relationship. These include the following:

● Khartoum maintains warm relationships domestically with groups that advocate violence and have destructive, intolerant, extremist religious ideologies. Such relations put U.S. persons and interests in Sudan, and globally, at great risk as some recent incidents documented below make abundantly clear.● Over the past year, the Sudan government has continued to repress Christians and moderate Muslims including through the repeated detentions of priests and churchgoers and the demolition of churches, the most recent a 64-member evangelical church in Khartoum. The government also singled out for harassment and detention rights activists who stood up for the freedom of religion.

● The movement of weapons, ammunition, and armed criminal actors from Sudan across the Sahel threatens regional security in Chad and the Central African Republic.

● The Sudanese regime reported it made offers in late 2017 to both Russia and Turkey of military alliances and services in the form of naval bases on its Red Sea coast risking further destabilization of the Middle East and Horn of Africa as well as alienating Gulf countries allied with Egypt. These offers, and subsequent Russian military sales, reveal the hostility and distrust that President al-Bashir has for the United States at a time when his regime is engaged in an attempt to remove itself from the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

To download the full report, click here.

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