- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2003

Sudan’s foreign minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, in Washington last week to tend the African nation’s courtship of the United States, could hardly believe what he heard from Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

“The secretary of state told me that economic sanctions against us could be lifted immediately after a draft peace agreement is signed between Sudan and its southern adversaries,” the Sudanese diplomat told editors and reporters at The Washington Times on Wednesday.

The sanctions were imposed on Sudan by the Clinton administration in 1997.

Mr. Powell’s quoted remarks came the day after a top Sudanese leader said he foresaw the signing of such a peace accord by June.

A lifting of sanctions against Sudan would provide a dramatic cap to a slow climb toward reconciliation that has been in the making for several years. It would represent a dramatic turnaround of U.S. policy toward an erstwhile radical leadership, similar to the easing of pressure by the United States against Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi.

Sudan is Africa’s largest state in area and is home to almost 40 million people, about 39 percent Arab Muslims from the north, 52 percent southerners worshipping traditional faiths, and Christians, who make up about 5 percent of the population, according the CIA’s World Factbook.

A low point in U.S.-Sudanese relations was reached in 1991-92 when the government in Khartoum sided with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf war .

The government, then ruled jointly by President Omar Hassan Bashir and fervent Islamist Hassan Turabi, remained a pariah state through most of the decade in the eyes of the United States.

Sudan was condemned for creating camps to train terrorists, waging a war to crush a rebellion and impose Islam on the mostly black south, for being behind an attempt to assassinate Hosni Mubarak, president of Egypt, Sudan’s northern neighbor.

The relationship reached a nadir when in 1998 U.S. attacks were launched on a Sudanese site believed to be producing chemicals for war. The strikes were viewed as retaliation for the terrorist attacks launched against the U.S. embassies of Kenya and Tanzania.

The message of U.S. anger quickly sank in. President Bashir divorced himself politically from Mr. Turabi, who was placed under house arrest.

By the time of the terrorist strike against the World Trade Center’s twin towers, Sudan had moved far enough away from its past to escape the U.S. dragnet cast against states that supported terrorism.

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