Sahel Blog: Have US sanctions against Sudan lost their bite?

As the US lifts sanctions against South Sudan, guest blogger Alex Thurston argues that US has lost its leverage in Sudan, since Khartoum has given up the hope of normalized relations.

Washington’s decision to extend sanctions against Sudan likely deepens President Omar al Bashir pessimism regarding the possibility of normalized relations with the US.

The United States has lifted sanctions on South Sudan and has eased some sanctions on (North) Sudan, but the main sanctions on Khartoum will remain in place:

U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday extended sanctions on Sudan for another year, saying Khartoum’s policies had not yet improved enough to warrant their removal.

Obama’s order maintains several sets of U.S. sanctions imposed since 1997 which restrict U.S. trade and investment with Sudan and block the assets of the Sudanese government and certain officials.

Khartoum rejected the decision:

“The government of Sudan strongly condemns the renewal of these sanctions,” the [foreign] ministry said in a statement. “The sanctions imposed by the U.S. administration are political sanctions which were and still are aimed at damaging Sudan’s vital interests by hindering development ambitions and plans to fight poverty.”

The extension of sanctions returns us to an issue I wrote about in June, when I asked what leverage the US has over Khartoum. Sudan specialist Bec Hamilton said at the time that the potential “carrot” of normalized relations with the US was “no longer leverage since Khartoum doesn’t believe it will ever happen (and they are probably right).” Assuming Hamilton is right about the mood in Khartoum, Washington’s decision to extend sanctions likely confirms and deepens Sudan’s pessimism regarding the possibility of normalization. That pessimism, in turn, could ultimately lead the regime of President Omar al Bashir to conclude that it is not worthwhile to halt violence in the border areas or Darfur in the hope of winning acceptance from Washington. That pessimism could also push Sudan even closer to China – Beijing, after all, was Bashir’s destination on the eve of Southern independence.

Washington’s decision to extend sanctions is in keeping with existing US policy toward Sudan, but the decision will have consequences, including ones that may negatively affect the relationship even after sanctions are eventually lifted.

Read more about the sanctions here.

 - Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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