The Obama administration should look to its successful sanctions regime and subsequent diplomacy with Iran as a model for ending violence in Sudan, according to a new report by NOOW partner, advocacy organization Enough Project.
The U.S. tightened sanctions on Iran with the hope that doing so would bring the government to the negotiating tableover its nuclear program, and the economic pressure did indeed push Tehran to make concessions in exchange for relief.
Now, Enough Project suggests the Obama administration do the same to pressure the government of Sudan to reach peace with rebel groups. Conflict in Sudan has carried on for decades with varying degrees of intensity, with the most well-publicized violence taking place in the Western province of Darfur. The government is accused of being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians as it works to eradicate rebel fighters there and elsewhere in the country.
John Prendergast, board member and former director of African affairs on President Bill Clinton's National Security Council, says the current administration has the unique opportunity to incentivize the Sudanese government by imposing harsher, targeted sanctions aimed at getting themto modify their behavior using the Iran "playbook."
"There's an opening now. The Sudan government is screaming for sanctions relief," says Prendergast, founding director of Enough Project. "We want to double down on that pressure, make it even worse, and then push for a comprehensive peace process that allows for inclusive representation of the various constituencies that have been shut out of government for the last 25 years. Let them sit at the table and work with the Sudan government to come to an agreement on the future of the country."
The current U.S. sanctions against Sudan, which were first implemented in 1997, fall into two broad categories: blocks on assets ofthe Sudanese government and a trade embargo, and targeted sanctions against individuals "contributing to the conflict in Darfur." The Sudanese government blames the punishments for its struggling economy and inability to provide for its people. It pushes this narrative while "minimizing the role played by the regime in diverting the public's money from development–and mismanaging the money or using it to fund war against the citizen," the reportsays.
Prendergast says modifying the current sanctions will lessen the impact the measures have on civilians while targeting individuals directly involved with perpetrating the violence.
"It's expanding the list of people and becoming more specific about individuals in leadership positions or facilitators and enablers of this regime who have been profiting from the war," Prendergast says.
But at the same time, he says, some areas where sanctions have adversely impacted the population need to be modified. One of the largest examples is the health care sector, where it has been difficult for aid organizations and businesses to get the necessary sanctions exemptions.
"We want to improve that process so it's easier for those that want to undertake humanitarian health-related projects," Prendergast says.
Access to health care has been severely restricted by the U.S. sanctions, which have prevented certain medical equipment and medicines from being imported to the country. But Maowia Khalid, the Sudanese charge d'affaires in Washington, doesn't think measures proposed by Enough Project would effectively alleviate pressure put on civilians when it comes to these goods.
"If you give some kind of loosening to part of the sanctions in the agriculture sector, in the health sector, without giving any means and ways to finance any work in this regard, it will be meaningless," Khalid says.
The Sundanese government doesn't have access to the international banking system, and companies are hesitant to do business there for fear of running afoul of the U.S. sanctions that could then restrict a business' access to the U.S. market.
Khalid decried the organization for its report, saying the recommendations "will deepen the suffering of the Sudanese people and prolong the conflicts on which Enough Project and its sisters live." He accuses the organization of ignoring positive developments, like a recently drafted road map aimed at ending the conflict, and not acknowledging the fact that it was the rebel groups who refused to sign the document.
In order for Sudan to normalize relations with the U.S., Khalid says, the entire sanctions regime should be lifted instead of just modified.
"What's needed right now is a full scale of diplomatic participation and engagement between the two countries without any sanctions, without any pressures," Khalid says. "The cooperation between Khartoum and Washington will be the only way to solve the standing problems."
While Sudan was an issue of concern for President Barack Obama when he was in the Senate, a plethora of international crises have drawn administration attention away from the continuing problems in the country and its Darfur region. Any recommendations for revising financial punishments would come out of the State Department, which says it gives Enough Project's analysis "serious consideration," but did not say if it would change its policy.
"The United States remains committed to seeing Sudan at peace with itself and with its neighbors. The United States placed a comprehensive set of bilateral economic sanctions on Sudan to discourage the government from waging war on its own people," a State Department official says on background. "We review those sanctions on an ongoing basis."
Prendergast says that achieving peace in Sudan wouldn't entail direct U.S. involvement, but would instead be involve using the sanctions as a way of "supporting the inclusion of the armed and unarmed opposition at the negotiating table" and making sure discussions focus on governance and a transition to democracy.
"Our role as outsiders would simply be to ensure that this process was put in place. The outcome would be negotiated by Sudanese themselves," Prendergast says. "At the end of the day, if there was an inclusive agreement, the United States should back it whatever it is because it isn't our role to tell these people exactly how they should be governed and what their own peace agreement should look like."