Obama to ease Bashir's Sudan sanctions on way out

Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir. (File: AFP)
Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir. (File: AFP)

Washington - The Obama administration is set to ease sanctions against Sudan and broaden now limited talks with the long estranged African government, a US-designated terrorism sponsor whose leader has been indicted on war crimes charges.

The change in policy is a response to positive actions by the Sudanese government in fighting terrorism, reducing conflict, denying safe haven to South Sudanese rebels and improving humanitarian access to people in need, three officials told the AP.

The White House is expected to announce an easing of sanctions on Friday as part of a five-track engagement process, said the officials, who weren't authorised to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.

They said the administration will keep in place the broad set of economic and financial sanctions Sudan faces as a result of its "state sponsor of terrorism" designation. The penalties being suspended by the policy change could be re-imposed if Sudan backtracks on the progress it has made, they added.

In any case, decisions on continuing the diplomatic outreach will be up to the incoming Trump administration, which takes office on January 20. Any changes are likely to enrage segments of the human rights community, who've long blasted Khartoum's Arab-led government for its conduct in Darfur and treatment of various ethnic groups.

Years of limited US engagement

Beyond recognising Sudan's improvements, the officials said the new approach signals an admission that years of limited US engagement with Khartoum had not produced the desired result. Such an acknowledgement fits with a general pattern under Obama of rapprochement with rogue or antagonistic states, including Cuba, Iran and Myanmar.

The administration hinted at a policy shift last fall.

In September, the State Department issued an out-of-the-blue statement welcoming Khartoum's co-operation in fighting Islamic extremist groups, without mentioning any specific development or reason for the public release.

It said Sudan had taken "important steps" to take on the Islamic State group and other such organisations, adding that the US would work with the country on security matters while pressing it on human rights and democracy.

At the time, the department said the US maintained grave concerns about Sudan's policies, notably its handling of unrest in the western Darfur region, but described normalised relations as not out of the question.

Limited travel 

The department first labelled Sudan a terrorism sponsor in 1993. Among those Sudan harbored was Osama bin Laden, prompting President Bill Clinton to launch airstrikes in 1998. Sudan is one of only three countries still identified as such after Cuba was removed from the list in 2015. Syria and Iran are the others, although the Obama administration sealed a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran a year and a half ago.

Sudan's changes have largely occurred below the radar. But the US credits the country with limiting travel of Islamic State militants and shifting toward greater alignment with Saudi Arabia, and less with Iran. Israel also has pressed the US to adopt a friendlier relationship with Sudan after it cracked down on shipments of suspected Iranian weapons to groups hostile to the Jewish state.

The announcement will surely draw criticism from human rights groups because of ongoing allegations of rights abuses, notably in Darfur, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's indictment by the International Criminal Court for related atrocities. Al-Bashir is wanted for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide charges.

Darfur has been gripped by bloodshed since 2003, when rebels took up arms against the government, accusing it of discrimination and neglect. The United Nations says 300 000 people have died in the conflict and 2.7 million have fled their homes.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
How has the delay in schools' opening impacted your life?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
It's a disaster! We're struggling to manage work and kids at home
41% - 1945 votes
It's a struggle, but we learnt lessons from last year's closures
20% - 945 votes
It's a relief, this second wave is bad and kids need to be at home
39% - 1871 votes
Vote
ZAR/USD
15.18
(+0.22)
ZAR/GBP
20.76
(+0.26)
ZAR/EUR
18.43
(+0.30)
ZAR/AUD
11.72
(+0.19)
ZAR/JPY
0.15
(+0.26)
Gold
1854.90
(-0.00)
Silver
25.41
(+0.35)
Platinum
1093.63
(+0.08)
Brent Crude
55.72
(+0.78)
Palladium
2313.00
(-0.13)
All Share
63973.13
(-0.91)
Top 40
58844.20
(-0.95)
Financial 15
11682.24
(+1.15)
Industrial 25
87169.26
(-1.91)
Resource 10
62075.68
(-0.29)
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo