(CNSNews.com) – The Trump administration’s deferral by three months of a decision on lifting sanctions against Sudan has drawn a chilly response from Khartoum, where the ICC-indicted Islamist president has suspended talks with Washington and his foreign minister is blaming U.S.-based advocacy groups for the setback.
Two weeks before he left office, President Obama in an executive order noted positive steps taken by the regime in the previous six months. In a move reportedly lobbied for by the Saudis, Obama authorized the lifting of some sanctions by July 12, if the incoming administration determines that “the positive actions that gave rise to this order” have been sustained.
The Sudanese government had been expecting that to happen on Wednesday this week, but a day earlier the State Department announced a three-month extension of the review period.
Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said if Sudan was assessed to have sustained the progress by the end of the three-month period, then the sanctions would go.
Sudan has been subject to U.S. sanctions for two decades, including measures imposed for terrorism in 1997, others imposed as a result of the Darfur conflict in 2006-7.
Even earlier, in 1993, the U.S. designated it as a state-sponsor of terrorism, in response to President Omar al-Bashir’s sheltering of the wanted Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden (from 1992-1996.)
Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, reacted to Tuesday’s decision by ordering a freeze in dialogue with the U.S.
The Sudan Tribune said Bashir in a decree ordered a suspension of the work of a committee negotiating with the U.S. until October 12 – the day the three-month extension period expires.
The SUNA state agency quoted Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour as insisting Sudan had met its pledges in five specified areas laid down by the U.S., and calling the delay decision “unjustified.”
(The five engagement “tracks” are: combating terrorism; defeating the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA); ending support for armed rebels in civil war-torn South Sudan; a cessation of hostilities in the area; and expanding humanitarian access to conflict areas including Darfur.)
Ghandour blamed the U.S. move on pressure groups which he said had benefited from the sanctions and the conflicts in Sudan. Without identifying them, he said such groups have “continued to raise slogans and outdated reports” about the situation.
Another Sudanese news outlet, Sudan Vision, said the minister did identify one of the groups, referring to the “Enough movement.”
The Enough Project, an “anti-atrocity policy and advocacy group” founded in 2007 by staffers from the International Crisis Group (ICG) and Center for American Progress, has played a leading role in advocating responses to the crises in Sudan and South Sudan.
Indeed, ahead of Tuesday’s State Department announcement, Enough founding director John Prendergast urged the administration not to permanently lift the sanctions, arguing that “a designated state sponsor of terrorism whose head of state is wanted for genocide, continues to support brutal militias that destabilize Darfur.”
“It continues to obstruct humanitarian access while more than a million people urgently need food and life-saving aid and continues its relentless attacks on religious freedoms including demolition of churches and denial of freedom of worship,” he said.
Prendergast, who worked at the National Security Council for the Clinton administration, responded to the State Department announcement by calling for a fresh U.S. approach, including new, targeted sanctions.
“This new track should be tied to a new set of smart, modernized sanctions that spare the Sudanese public and target those who are most responsible for grand corruption and atrocities, including air strikes on villages, attacks on churches, obstruction of humanitarian aid, jailing and torturing opposition figures and civil society leaders, stealing elections, and undermining peace efforts,” he said.
North Korea a ‘continual concern’
In its announcement, the State Department said that beyond the five key areas, the administration also wants to intensify engagement on “a broader range of vital issues” – including human rights and religious freedom, and ensuring Khartoum fully implements U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea.
A senior administration official briefing on background Wednesday rejected claims that bringing up issues like North Korea amounts to shifting the goalposts. (Sudan Tribune called them “additional conditions.”)
“We have made our position clear with the Sudanese government, and even outside of the five-track plan and in our longer-term engagement, for a very long time, that they must abide by the U.N. Security Council resolutions with regards to North Korea,” she said.
“That has not been added to the five-track framework, but it has been a continual concern we have with the Sudanese government, and we’ve expressed that all along.”
A second official taking part in the teleconference briefing noted that efforts to curb Pyongyang’s missile activities were “a top security priority for the president.”
The administration officials declined to comment on Bashir’s reported ordering of a freeze in negotiations.
They also made clear that the three-month extension was the result of an interagency process, involving input from the State Department, Treasury, intelligence agencies and USAID.
Asked about lobbying from groups like the Enough Project and Christian groups, the senior administration official declined to “speculate on any of the internal deliberations.”
“This was a robust policy review process to determine that we just needed more time, that the new administration needed more time,” the second official reiterated.
In a recent analysis the ICG – which was closely associated with the founding of Enough – contended that it may be time for some sanction relief.
It acknowledged that lifting sanctions would be seen to “reward a regime that must do much more to improve governance and end its wars,” but said that not doing so could reverse progress made thus far and discourage further cooperation.
“On balance, lifting sanctions is the better of two imperfect options,” the ICG concluded. It noted that some important restrictions will remain in place providing ongoing leverage – such as the state-sponsor of terror designation and the absence of a U.S. ambassador in Khartoum – and added that, should the regime backslide, the lifted sanctions could be swiftly reimposed.