Though President Trump’s decision to decertify the Iran Deal largely dominated headlines last week, it was not the administration’s only major foreign policy action. Last Thursday, the Trump administration lifted sanctions on over 200 Sudanese entities, a decision based in part on the Sudanese government’s reported progress in fighting terrorism, promoting peace, and improving humanitarian access throughout the country. The U.S. also secured assurances that Sudan would not buy weapons from North Korea.
The easing of sanctions on Sudan is a risky maneuver. The country, under the current leadership, has a long history of engaging in support for terrorism and human rights violations. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations implemented sanctions on Sudan in several waves as part of a bipartisan effort to target the Sudanese government for these reasons, and the Obama administration upheld them.
In January, however, Obama took steps to roll back some of these sanctions. Recognizing improvements primarily in the area of counterterrorism, he issued an executive order that lifted some sanctions, conditional on the Sudanese government meeting five criteria – maintaining a ceasefire in several regions, improving humanitarian access, not undermining peace in South Sudan, fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army, and cooperating with the U.S. in fighting terrorism – by July. The Trump administration, apparently unprepared to make a determination, issued an executive order in July extending that deadline until October.
In a lengthy report last week, the State Department laid out how the Sudanese government had made progress on each of the five conditions. As a result, parts of Clinton’s 1997 executive order and all of Bush’s 2006 executive order have been rescinded. These orders broadly barred U.S. entities from importing or exporting goods to and from Sudan, and from transacting with Sudanese oil and gas companies or the Sudanese government. The removal of these prohibitions may spur a revival of banking and investment in the country.
The Trump administration did not lift all sanctions on Sudan, however. Executive Order 13400, which sanctions individuals involved in perpetrating human rights abuses in Darfur, remains in effect. Also, due to Khartoum’s long history of abetting terrorist organizations – including al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah – Sudan will remain on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. However, because the country has been a “cooperative partner” in fighting terrorism, the Treasury Department issued a general license last Friday allowing for the export of agricultural and medical products to the country, which had previously been blocked.
Sudan still has a long way to go, and this is reflected in current U.S. policy. For example, religious freedom was not included in the five-point list, as churches continue to be demolished across the country. Additionally, there is still an outstanding warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir at the International Criminal Court (ICC), a poignant reminder that the country continues to be led by the man who launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing that killed up to 300,000 in Darfur. And questions remain about Sudan’s lack of a long-term plan to make these gains permanent.
The preservation of some sanctions was the right call for the Trump administration. It ensures the U.S. retains leverage going forward to prompt additional reform. The U.S. must continue to make it clear that if Sudan regresses, sanctions will snap back, while continued and sustainable improvements could lead to additional sanctions relief.
Alex Entz is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance.
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