On October 12, 2017 the Trump administration announced the partial lifting of sanctions against the nation of Sudan to allow the government and people of Sudan to participate in the international banking system to promote trade and economic growth. Over the last twenty years since these financial, trade, and banking sanctions were imposed, Sudan has economically suffered. President’s Trump’s executive order easing restrictions on Sudan created a new mood of optimism, with the State Department indicating that this would be the beginning of new relations with Sudan. The State Department publicly mooted that this could be the first step to removing Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism in the future. However, after almost four months, the U.S. government has not facilitated the transfer of money for Sudan, which is contributing to the nation’s economic strife today.
Sudan Opens a Second Front
The failure by the U.S. to implement fully the easing sanction is the result of a conflict between President Trump’s agenda and dissident factions in the State Department, supported by many in the Congress, who are incapable of relinquishing their fanatical desire to have Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir removed from office. These contradictions became obvious when Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan visited Khartoum on November 16, 2017, and conspicuously avoided meeting with President Bashir, using the excuse that the president of Sudan has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Even though the U.S. is not a member of the ICC, it is well known that previous administrations supported efforts to have President Bashir removed from office. The zealots of this international alliance for regime change, who have been behind this nefarious campaign for decades, reject even tentative overtures by President Trump to chart a new course for U.S.-Sudan relations. There are unconfirmed reports that the U.S. State Department, not the executive branch, is demanding the removal of President Bashir as a precondition for further progress in U.S.-Sudan relations including removing Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism.
One week following the diplomatic snub by Sullivan, the most senior State Department official to visit Khartoum, President Bashir shocked everyone in Washington, and many in Khartoum, when he visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on November 23. This surprise move was not expected by Washington. Reflecting the sentiments of most Sudanese, especially in the ruling National Congress Party, that the U.S. once again was not acting in good faith, President Bashir made his very first visit to Russia. Fearing that the goalposts have been moved again, as they have been repeatedly, and that the regime-change faction is still desirous of his removal, President Bashir asked Russia for protection from aggressive acts by the U.S. Sudan’s Rapprochement With Russia
The two presidents discussed increased economic and military cooperation, including the possibility of Russia securing a military base on the Red Sea that forms the eastern border of Sudan. According to knowledgeable sources, President Bashir will continue to look forward to improved cooperation with the U.S. and the West, but simultaneously pursue a closer alliance with Russia. President Bashir believes Russia’s veto on the United Nations Security Council, along with its military capability as demonstrated in Syria, will provide a bulwark against any future reckless policy against Sudan by the West.
U.S. Needs Sudan
For Sudan, there is no turning back from their “dual-front” policy with the world’s two superpowers, but it didn’t have to come to this. The failure to fully implement the easing of trade/financial sanctions after years of refusal by the U.S. to talk face-to-face with President Bashir, accompanied by the severe economic hardships suffered by the Sudanese people from U.S.-led sanctions, contributed to President Bashir’s first overture to Russia.
Sudan is strategically situated in East Africa in the Nile River system that connects sub-Saharan Africa to North Arica. Moreover, Sudan has for years been a valuable ally in the war against ISIS, providing useful intelligence to U.S. security forces. Also, it must be unequivocally stated, that there will be no solution to the crisis in South Sudan that the U.S. and Britain have contributed to, without the direct participation of the President of Sudan. Susan Rice, in charge of African policy in the second term of Bill Clinton’s Presidency is personally culpable for the horrific conditions in South Sudan today. She and other so-called liberals hated Sudan’s leadership, and were fierce advocates for the creation of South Sudan. Their intention was to use South Sudan as part of their arsenal for regime change, without the slightest concern for the welfare of the people of South Sudan.
Sudan is a nation rich in mineral resources, and has large tracts of arable land, not yet under cultivation. It has been known for decades, long before the creation of South Sudan in 2011, that Sudan had the potential to feed a billion people, about the size of sub-Saharan Africa’s population today. It should be recognized (if not admitted) that successive U.S. administrations have strategically failed in their policy towards Sudan, lacking a vision of how to participate with African nations to develop their huge wealth in land and in its people.
Africa needs huge investments in infrastructure to realize its potential in agriculture, industry, and manufacturing. Instead of the West fixating on extractive industries, i.e., gas, oil, and minerals, which have a minimal role in job creation, their focus should have been on railroads and energy. When the South-North and East-West railroads are finally built, their nexus will be in central Sudan. Trains carrying freight and people will be able to travel from Port Sudan on the Red Sea into West and Southern Africa, thus ensuring that Sudan will become a mega manufacturing-agricultural-transportation hub for the continent.
The Way Forward
There is a relatively easy path for President Trump to follow, to engage Sudan fruitfully. Port Sudan is already included on China’s Maritime Silk Road. China’s involvement in building infrastructure throughout the African continent is unparalleled. Were President Trump to join with China’s New Silk Road for Africa in vital infrastructure to Sudan, the U.S. would form new partnerships with Sudan and other African nations.
President Bashir demonstrated his ability to negotiate and compromise when he signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 with President George W. Bush to allow an independence referendum in South Sudan. This resulted in the peaceful separation of Sudan seven years ago, with Khartoum voluntarily giving up 75% of its oil production. With this historical perspective in mind, President Trump can put U.S.-Sudan relations on a positive course by arranging for direct, if informal, talks with President Bashir, and carrying through on the easing of sanctions pertaining to trade, finance, and banking. These actions will be well received in Khartoum and reciprocated.
Lawrence Freeman has been visiting and writing about Sudan for over 20 years, discussing economic development and US-Sudan relations with members of parliament, the NCP, and leaders of opposition parties.