The United States on Monday held out the prospect of reducing its dwindling list of state sponsors of terrorism by yet another country, with both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton saying Sudan could soon be removed from the list.
Talk of Sudan’s possible removal from the sponsor-of-terror list came in the context of the release Monday of official results of a January referendum in South Sudan showing that the predominantly Christian half of the country had voted to secede.
The US said Monday it will recognize an independent southern Sudan – and added that recognition of an independent south by Khartoum would pave the way for a review of Sudan’s 16-year-old terror sponsor designation.
IN PICTURES: South Sudan referendum
“For those who meet all of their obligations, there is a path to greater prosperity and normal relations with the United States, including examining Sudan’s designations as a state sponsor of terrorism,” Mr. Obama said in a statement.
Sudan President Omar al-Bashir on Monday appeared to accept the inevitable and said he wanted to be the first to congratulate the south on its vote to form a new state.
Sudan currently occupies the US terrorism list with three other countries: Cuba, Iran, and Syria. The Bush administration removed two countries from the list – Libya in 2006 and North Korea in 2008 – although the Obama administration has said it was considering returning North Korea to the list after a series of nuclear and missile tests in 2009.
Darfur still an issue
The State Department said Monday that Sudan has demonstrated that it wants normalized relations with the US. Since 2006 the State Department has reported improving “cooperation” from Sudan in the global war on terror, but the regime in Khartoum has also won demerits for the war in its own western province of Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of Sudanese citizens have been killed or displaced.
In his statement, Obama made special mention of Darfur, repeating US insistence that attacks on civilians there must stop.
Secretary Clinton said Sudan could be removed from the state-sponsor list if it meets the requirements of US law – including a finding that it had not sponsored any act of terror in the preceding six months.
“Removal of the state sponsor of terrorism designation will take place if and when Sudan meets all criteria spelled out in US law, including not supporting international terrorism for the preceding six months and providing assurance it will not support such acts in the future,” Clinton said. Khartoum must also fully implement all provisions of a 2005 peace agreement with the south, she added.
President Bashir may want off the US terror list, but he also has an eye on his July 2008 indictment by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Non-governmental organizations focused on Sudan and Darfur were cautiously optimistic about the official referendum results announced Monday, but said sustained international oversight would be crucial in the months leading up to southern Sudan’s independence.
'Sustained US ... attention'
The Genocide Intervention Network / Save Darfur Coalition urged “sustained US and international attention to the interim period before South Sudan's official independence in July,” said Amir Osman, the coalition’s senior director for policy and government relations.
“The United States and other international leaders must sustain aggressive diplomatic efforts to ensure a peace throughout Sudan, north and south," Mr. Osman said. "The south will require support in facing internal tensions and managing the high expectations that come with independence, and the Khartoum regime must be held accountable for its attacks on civilians and its ongoing efforts to block peacekeepers and humanitarian aid workers in the region.”
Khartoum’s Bashir still must prove his good intentions towards the south, but recent events in addition to Washington’s words Monday suggest he may be making headway internationally.
Last month the African Union issued a statement calling on the international community to drop its indictment of Bashir and to establish normal relations with Khartoum. And recent reports from Paris suggest the US and France have been considering a plan to encourage deferral of any action on Bashir’s indictment in exchange for his commitment to peace in the south and in Darfur.
IN PICTURES: South Sudan referendum