Is the US toying with Sudan, with one hand lifting some of the sanctions it imposed two decades ago in relation to the Darfur conflict, and the other voting in favour of extending the UN Security Council mandated sanctions for another year? Or is this another instance of the inconsistency and lack of clarity that have come to characterise US foreign policy in the Biden era? Does Washington have other ends in mind?
The US had promised Khartoum to lift the sanctions it had imposed during the Omar Al-Bashir regime which was toppled in 2019, ushering in a new era for Sudan. The Sudanese and Israeli agreement in October 2020 to establish diplomatic relations was part of the deal between the US and Sudan. That clause came to fruition in February this year with the formal establishment of diplomatic relations between Khartoum and Israel. But then in March, the US turned around and began to lobby other members of the UN Security Council to vote in favour of Resolution 2676 extending the UN sanctions. The US-sponsored text was adopted by the council with 13 members voting in favour and two abstentions: Russia and China.
Let us recall that it was the US, under George Bush Jr, that spurred the UN Security Council to impose a raft of sanctions against Sudan in response to the Bashir regime’s actions in Darfur and that the US, under Trump, had taken Sudan off the US list of state sponsors of terrorism the moment it signed the 2020 agreement to normalise relations with Israel. Is not the US campaign to extend the sanctions a flagrant contradiction of US policy? What is the rationale behind this?
Clearly one purpose of protracting sanctions is to keep up the pressure on Sudan to follow through on its normalisation agreement with Isreal. The process was launched with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen’s visit to Khartoum last month, but according to available information, the agreement will not go into full effect for some months. So the Biden administration wants to keep the screws tightened on the Sudanese regardless of how much the US appears to contradict itself.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly