- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The United States wants to improve ties with Sudan after more than a decade of strained relations, if the African nation ruled by an autocratic president under indictment for war crimes adopts democracy and respects human rights, a senior Obama administration official said on Wednesday.

“The United States wants to have a normal, indeed a productive, relationship with Sudan,” Princeton Lyman, the U.S. special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan said at the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy think tank in Washington.

“It saddens us… that we are not on a warm and friendlier course,” he added.

To improve relations with Washington, the government in Khartoum would first have to embrace democracy and ensure human rights for its citizens, Mr. Lyman said.

Sudan must stop bombing civilians and welcome international offers of humanitarian aid for civilians in the border states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, who are caught in the fighting between Sudanese armed forces and southern rebels, he added.

Sudan would also have to seek a meaningful resolution of outstanding issues with South Sudan, which would lead to the resumption of trade between the African neighbors. South Sudan broke away from Sudan last year.

Mr. Lyman said the United States would work to end the fighting in southern Sudan and encourage South Sudan to normalize relations with the government in Khartoum. Washington would also support a role for U.N. peacekeepers in the region.

An improvement in the U.S.-Sudan relationship would mean exchanges between military schools and colleges. It would include a role for Sudan’s Armed Forces in international peacekeeping operations, economic ties with the U.S. and support in the fight against terrorism.

The United States has had a troubled relationship with Sudan for more than a decade, a period marked by tensions over violence between pro-government Arab militias and rebel groups in the western province of Darfur, negotiations with South Sudan and the conflict in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.

The International Criminal Court has accused Sudanese President Omar Bashir of committing war crimes in Darfur.

Gen. Bashir quickly recognized South Sudan when it became independent on July 9, 2011. Since then, however, the two nations have teetered on the brink of war, and South Sudan has shut down oil vital to the economies of both nations.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is on a visit to Africa, is expected to press South Sudan President Salva Kiir to reach an agreement on outstanding issues with Sudan when she meets with him on Friday.

The United States placed Sudan on the list of states sponsoring international terrorism in 1993 and, as the conflict in Darfur flared, also imposed economic sanctions.

“This is not a situation that lends itself easily to normalized of relations,” said Mr. Lyman.

“It has restricted our interaction at senior levels. … It has engendered suspicion and often public antagonism between our two countries,” he added. “Above all, it has kept our two countries from realizing the benefits from a normalized relationship.”

Sudanese officials have heard such talk before. They accuse the United States of repeatedly changing conditions for better relations.

“The U.S. has been accused of constantly moving the goalposts, repeatedly changing the conditions on which we would move, for example, on removing Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism or for supporting debt relief,” Mr. Lyman said, acknowledging the criticism.

“Each time we have been prepared to move forward to improve our relations, war and widespread human rights violations have impeded our efforts.”

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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