Barack Obama says US will remove Khartoum from list of state sponsors of terror if referendums go ahead in January
US senator John Kerry (left) meets Sudanese presidential adviser Ghazi Salaheddine in Khartoum where he presented Barack Obama’s offer to drop Sudan from the US list of states it believes sponsor terrorism.
The US will drop Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism as early as July 2011 if Khartoum ensures two key referendums take place on schedule in January and the results are respected, according to senior US officials.
President Barack Obama made the offer through Senator John Kerry, who recently told Sudan’s leaders the US was ready to “decouple” the issue of Darfur from Khartoum’s terror designation to win co-operation on the January polls, the officials said.
“We like to consider this a pay-for-performance operation,” one official said.
The US officials, speaking after Kerry’s visit to the region, emphasised that separate US sanctions imposed on Sudan over Darfur would remain until Khartoum made progress in resolving the humanitarian situation in its troubled western region.
But they held out hope that the offer to drop Sudan from the terror list would persuade Khartoum to begin making the necessary concessions to allow the January votes to proceed.
The parallel referendums on 9 January are to decide whether southern Sudan will secede to become Africa’s newest state and whether the disputed oil-rich territory of Abyei joins the north or the south.
The plebiscites were promised under a 2005 peace deal that ended Sudan’s long civil war. But preparations are behind schedule and the two sides continue to disagree on Abyei, raising fears the region could tip back into violence if the votes are mishandled.
The US, which has stepped up its diplomacy in Sudan, wants to see the votes occur peacefully and all related issues, including deals on future citizenship and the sharing of oil revenues, resolved soon.
Kerry, the powerful Democratic chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, has visited Sudan twice in recent weeks and carried Obama’s latest offer to Khartoum at the weekend, the officials said.
The US state department added Sudan to its state terror list in 1993, accusing Khartoum of harbouring national and international militants, including for a time the al-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden.
The other countries on the list are Cuba, Iran and Syria. The designation carries sanctions on US foreign assistance, a ban on defence exports and sales, and a raft of restrictions on financial and other dealings. Officials say Khartoum has been pushing hard to be removed from the list, as were North Korea and Libya in recent years.
Obama’s offer moves up by at least six months the date by which Khartoum might come off the list. But a final decision was contingent on Sudan halting all sponsorship of terrorism for at least six months before the July 2011 target date and pledging not to resume such assistance in the future, the officials said.
Separate US sanctions imposed over Darfur – where the United Nations estimates up to 300,000 people died following a revolt in 2003 –were extended for another year on 1 November by Obama.
“Those … sanctions remain in place and they are the ones that have a significant effect on Sudan’s economy and on the government of Sudan itself,” said one official, who added that future steps such as debt relief and an exchange of ambassadors would depend upon progress in the region.
The officials said the US would continue to press for a deal on Abyei in talks under the mediation of the former South African president Thabo Mbeki, which have thus far failed to show progress.