Obama Administration Links Sudan’s Removal From Terror-Sponsor List to Non-Terror-Related Issue

By Patrick Goodenough | February 8, 2011 | 5:06 AM EST

Southern Sudanese celebrate the formal announcement of the independence referendum results in the southern capital of Juba on Monday, Feb. 7 2011. (AP Photo/Pete Muller)

(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration has started the process of removing Sudan from the shrinking list of countries designated as state-sponsors of terrorism, linking the move directly to Khartoum’s full implementation of a peace agreement that ended the long civil war between the north and south.

Following the finalization of a referendum on independence for southern Sudan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday the process of delisting Khartoum would now begin with the initiation of a review.

In line with statutory requirements, the president will have to certify to Congress that Sudan has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period. A 45-day notice period is required.

Sudan also will have to provide assurances that it will not support terrorism in the future.

But apart from those legal criteria for any country to be taken off the terror-sponsor list, President Obama last November also tied the move to an issue unrelated to support for international terrorism – Sudan’s compliance with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the long and brutal civil war between the Islamist-ruled, mostly Muslim north and the predominantly Christian and animist south.

Both the president and Clinton on Monday reiterated that linkage.

“For those who meet all of their [CPA] obligations, there is a path to greater prosperity and normal relations with the United States, including examining Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism,” Obama said in a statement.

For her part, Clinton said that in order to be taken off the list, Sudan must both meet the legal requirements relating to international terrorism and fully implement the CPA, including reaching a political solution with the south on the future of the disputed oil-rich Abyei region.

President Omar Al-Bashir talks shortly before the final declaration of the result of the Sudanese referendum at the Republican Palace in Khartoum on Monday, Feb. 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Abd Raouf)

The Jan. 9 referendum on possible secession of the south was a key element of the CPA. According to official results released Monday more than 98 percent of ballots cast were in favor of independence.

Linking removal from the terror-sponsor list with issues not related to international terrorism has been controversial in the past.

When in 2008 the Bush administration was reported to be considering offering to remove Khartoum from the list in exchange for regime concessions on the Darfur conflict raging at the time, then presidential candidate Sen. Obama called the move “reckless and cynical.”

“[N]o country should be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism for any reason other than the existence of verifiable proof that the government in question does not support terrorist organizations,” Obama said in a statement that April.

Asked at a briefing Monday what the referendum had to do with not sponsoring terrorism, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley replied, “In our dialogue with the government of Sudan, where Sudan has made clear it wants more normal relations with the United States, this is one of the issues that is an issue between our two countries.”

“And we’ve indicated that going forward we are willing to work to resolve this – with the caveat again that there are particular legal requirements that have to be satisfied before this action could be taken,” he added.

When the Bush administration removed Libya and North Korea from the list, in 2006 and 2008 respectively, in both cases the decision was tied in part to the regimes’ undertakings on their weapons of mass destruction programs.

Given concerns about proliferation to terrorist groups, however, the WMD issue was seen as directly related to international terrorism.

(North Korea’s subsequent reneging on its denuclearization undertakings, nuclear and missile tests and aggression towards South Korea, brought calls in Congress and elsewhere 2010 for it to be returned to the list.)

Terror haven

Countries designated as terror-sponsors are subject to economic sanctions including a ban on arms-related exports and sales, restrictions on exports of “dual-use” items, and prohibitions on economic assistance. The U.S. also opposes loans by international financial institutions to listed countries.

Eight countries have a various times been on the list since it was established in 1979, with Sudan the most recent addition, in August 1993.

Today’s list comprises Sudan, Syria (added in 1979), Cuba (1982) and Iran (1984). Countries previously on the list were South Yemen (1979-1990), Libya (1979-2006) and North Korea (1986-2008.) Iraq was listed from 1979-1982, redesignated in 1990 after the invasion of Kuwait, and again removed after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Sudan was added to the list four years after President Omar Al-Bashir came to power in a military coup, and a year after Sudan began hosting al-Qaeda terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden, who had been expelled by his native Saudi Arabia, used Sudan as his base of operations until 1996, and then returned to Afghanistan. A U.S. federal court in 2007 found that Sudan’s active support for al-Qaeda during the 1990s had been critical in enabling the terror network to develop the expertise and resources to bomb the USS Cole in Yemen’s Aden port in 2000, an attack that killed 17 U.S. sailors.

The same year as the terror-sponsor designation, 1993, the U.S. downgraded its embassy in Khartoum. It was closed entirely in 1996 “due to concerns regarding the Sudanese government’s ability to adequately ensure the safety of U.S. officials.”

After al-Qaeda bombed the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the U.S. bombed a factory in Khartoum, claiming it was being used to manufacture chemical weapons and was linked to bin Laden. Sudan denied the claims.

Relations began to improve slowly after 9/11. In 2002 the U.S. Embassy was reopened, although no ambassador has been posted and the mission is headed by a charge d’affaires.

U.S. economic, trade, and financial sanctions which were imposed in 1997 remain in place. Additional sanctions were introduced by President Bush in 2007 in response to the Darfur conflict, targeting Sudanese who were implicated in Darfur violence as well as companies owned or controlled by the regime.

Arms to Hamas

Since 9/11, the U.S. government has reported Sudanese cooperation in the campaign against terrorism.

In its most recent annual terrorism report, released last August, the State Department said “the bilateral counterterrorism relationship remains solid.”

But it also noted that members of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and “al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist elements” remained in the country during the period under review.

In one of the classified U.S. government cables released by Wikileaks late last year, the State Department in January 2009 raised concern about deliveries of Iranian-supplied arms to Sudan, destined for Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

It instructed the embassy in Khartoum to ask the Sudanese government to stop the flights, pointing out that Iranian arms exports are prohibited under U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Six months later another State Department cable referred to a “a significant volume of arms shipments to Hamas” crossing the Red Sea from Yemen into Sudan, from where they were believed to be transported north by vehicle.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow