- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The Bush administration on Tuesday removed Sudan from the State Department’s list of nations that are considered noncooperative in the war on terror. While it still remains on another watch list of governments considered to be state sponsors because of known terrorists within their borders, the action two days ago is a significant step toward normalizing U.S. relations with and ending sanctions against the northeast African nation. While it is prudent to proceed cautiously, the Bush administration is taking important steps to encourage progress in Khartoum.

Taking Sudan off one of Washington’s two terrorist watch lists recognizes the significant cooperation the Sudanese have provided against Osama bin Laden’s terror network. According to information provided solely to The Washington Times by Sudan’s Washington embassy, Khartoum has arrested nearly 600 members of al Qaeda. It also has conducted seven joint operations with the CIA against al Qaeda and affiliated groups in the horn of Africa. Sudan, Yemen and Ethiopia have an intelligence-sharing agreement to counter al Qaeda in the region. Last Thanksgiving, a CIA finding revealed that al Qaeda had re-established itself in Somalia. A working relationship with Sudan is particularly vital to our increasing effort to drive al Qaeda out of Africa, as was done in Afghanistan.

Today’s cooperation is consistent with attempts the current government has made for more than eight years to try to win better relations with Washington. As was reported in Richard Miniter’s bestseller “Losing bin Laden,” Sudan repeatedly offered to arrest bin Laden and hand him and intelligence dossiers on hundreds of al Qaeda operatives over to the United States — but was rebuffed by the Clinton administration.

Sudan is far from a peaceful place. It is home to the longest civil war in Africa. And yesterday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher complained that Khartoum was “delaying access to humanitarian relief organizations and the international community” so that the ongoing crisis in Darfur could be alleviated. While this crisis is real, what is untold in most press accounts is how the misery is being spread by terror groups. Militias loyal to radical Islamic leader Hasan al-Turabi are waging a revolt to try to topple the pro-American government. These militias are interrupting food shipments to worsen the situation in Darfur. Turabi, who brought bin Laden to Sudan in the ‘90s, is under arrest in Khartoum, but the government needs to do more to crack down on his rebellion.

This week’s actions by the Bush administration show that it has a nuanced policy toward Sudan. It is to engage and reward the government for assistance in the war on terror while not overlooking the human-rights problems that still exist. There is one more act that would be in America’s national interest: Washington should restore its ambassador to Khartoum, a posting that was recalled during the Clinton years. This move would improve communication between governments and allow for bilateral diplomacy on a daily basis. A more productive relationship between Sudan and the United States is in the interests of both countries.

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