Wednesday 22 November 2017

US says time not 'right' for talks on removing Sudan from blacklist

US says time not 'right' for talks on removing Sudan from blacklist
(AFP 10/08/17)

The top US envoy in Sudan said Saturday that conditions have to be "right" for holding talks with Khartoum on removing it from Washington's blacklist of state sponsors of "terrorism".

US charge d'affaires to Khartoum Steven Koutsis' remarks came a day after Washington ended its 20-year-old trade embargo on the east African country.

However, the US did not drop Sudan from the blacklist, a consistent demand by Khartoum in return for cooperating with US intelligence agencies in fighting "terrorism".

"This is something that both sides are keenly willing to discuss, but we have to be certain that conditions are right for discussions to remove (Sudan) from the list," Koutsis said at a press conference at the US mission in Khartoum.

"The government of Sudan knows fully well what it needs to do ... and we hope that those conditions will come soon," he said, without elaborating.

Later on Saturday, Sudan's Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said Khartoum faces a "paradox".

"We are the best country cooperating on countering terrorism and at the same time we are on the list of state sponsors of terrorism," Ghandour said in his first remarks since the trade embargo was dropped.

Ghandour, who led the Sudanese team negotiating the lifting of sanctions, said it was time to start talks for removing the country from the blacklist.

On Friday, Khartoum had expressed disappointment that this had not happened.

- 'Go to the big brother' -

"Discussion on removing from the (list of) state sponsors of terror was not part of our engagement under the five-track plan," Koutsis said, referring to the five conditions that Washington had insisted that Khartoum meet in return for ending the trade embargo.

Khartoum insists that there is no reason for it to be on the blacklist as it has cooperated with US intelligence agencies in fighting terrorism in the region, a claim acknowledged even by the US State Department.

Sudanese officials say that being on this list along with Syria and Iran makes it difficult to seek foreign debt relief, which has been a factor in hampering the country's economic growth.

"If you want to talk to anyone, they will say 'go to the big brother'," said Ghandour.

"As a foreign minister I thought what can I do? So, if you open the doors with the United States, you open the doors with others."

- 'Legal impediments' lifted -

Washington first imposed the sanctions in 1997 over Khartoum's alleged support for Islamist militant groups. Osama bin Laden, the slain Al-Qaeda founder, lived in Sudan between 1992 and 1996.

Following a significant improvement in relations, former US President Barack Obama eased the sanctions in January before leaving office with a view to lifting them completely after a six-month review.

But in July, President Donald Trump extended the review period to October 12. On Friday, his administration decided to lift the embargo permanently.

Koutsis said he expected increased interest from American companies on doing business in Sudan.

"But of course businesses will make business decisions based on entire level of risk involved, and they will be looking at other aspects of potential investment in Sudan," he said.

Washington's financial sanctions had put restrictions on international banking transactions, exchange of technology and spare parts. Combined with other cumbersome trade regulations, they hampered Sudan's economic growth.

Koutsis said that "legal impediments" that previously prevented such transactions have now been removed with the lifting of the embargo.

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