US threatens new sanctions in meeting with Sudanese junta

By Julian Pecquet

Posted on Friday, 21 January 2022 03:10
People attend a rally against military rule following last month's coup in Khartoum, Sudan, 13 January 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

The top US officials handling Sudan have threatened the country’s military leaders with more sanctions this week if they don’t get the country’s democratic transition back on track.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee and David Satterfield, the new special envoy for the Horn of Africa, also warned that Washington won’t restore frozen aid until political violence ends. Eight more democracy protesters were killed this week, bringing the death toll to at least 72 since the 25 October coup.

The pair met with the junta and democracy activists in Khartoum on Wednesday after first stopping by Saudi Arabia to rally support for UN efforts to install a new civilian-led government that can prepare for democratic elections.

In a readout of the visit on Thursday, the US embassy in Khartoum said the two diplomats “underscored that the United States will not resume paused assistance to the Sudanese government absent an end to violence and a restoration of a civilian-led government that reflects the will of the people of Sudan”.

Congress set aside $700m in economic support for the country in December 2020 as Sudan began normalising ties with Israel, but the Biden administration froze the aid after the military’s October coup.

“The military leaders of the Sovereign Council […] offered their commitment to inclusive national dialogue, the political transition, the establishment of a civilian-led government based upon consensus, and acknowledged the importance of establishing and sustaining a peaceful environment to allow the political process to proceed,” the embassy statement says. “The assistant secretary and special envoy made clear that the United States will consider measures to hold accountable those responsible for failure to move forward on these goals.”

While the State Department “does not preview sanctions actions”, a spokesman tells The Africa Report, “the United States is considering all available diplomatic tools to ensure spoilers do not undermine Sudan’s return to its transition to democracy”.

Diplomatic hustle

The US visit follows a flurry of recent diplomatic activity following Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s resignation at the beginning of the month.

The UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission to Sudan (UNITAMS), which was established in June 2020 to help with the democratic transition following President Omar al-Bashir’s toppling, launched a UN-facilitated, Sudanese-led political process on 8 January. That same day, the United States joined the three other members of the so-called Quad – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom – announced their support for the UNITAMS effort.

The US and its allies reaffirmed this support at an 18 January meeting, in Riyadh, of the Friends of Sudan, a group that also includes Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the European Union and the UN.

“The Friends of Sudan pledged their full support to this process,” the group said in a statement. “We expect it will identify a way forward to resolve Sudan’s political impasse and end the violence.”

Meanwhile, an Israeli military delegation was set to meet Wednesday with Sudan’s top general, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, following a stop in Egypt, Israeli media reported. Israel is close to the Sudanese military leadership that agreed to normalise ties under President Donald Trump and has held back on criticism of the coup.

Sudan’s junta needs to face accountability for its actions before and following the October 25 coup, which makes the likelihood of a credible dialogue with them all the more difficult.

“The United States remains committed to supporting the Sudanese people’s desire to advance their country’s democratic transition under civilian leadership and we continue to collaborate with international partners who align similarly on this such as the Troika, EU, Quad and others,” the State Department spokesperson said. “Our policy is driven by the Sudanese people’s manifest aspirations for freedom, democracy, peace, justice, and prosperity.  We are enlisting the support of multiple international actors – including Gulf states – to explore ways to bolster Sudan’s democratic transition.”

Phee and Satterfield then travelled to Khartoum, where they first sat down with democracy activists from the Sudanese Professionals Association and the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, before meeting down with military leaders of the Sovereign Council led by Burhan. They also met with the families of some of the pro-democracy protesters who have been killed.

Changing of the guard

This is the first official visit to Sudan for both Phee and Satterfield, a former US ambassador to Turkey who replaced Jeffrey Feltman as special envoy this month. Also newly reassigned is Lucy Tamlyn, a former director of the Office of the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, who this week replaced Brian Shukan as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim in Khartoum following Shukan’s nomination to serve as ambassador to Benin.

In their meetings, Phee and Satterfield “strongly condemned the use of disproportionate force against protestors, especially the use of live ammunition and sexual violence and the practice of arbitrary detention”, according to the US Embassy’s statement. “They called for transparent and independent investigations into the deaths and injuries that have occurred and for all those responsible to be held accountable.”

Meanwhile, Congress continues to debate further action, including through comprehensive legislation that goes beyond sanctions.

“While any form of dialogue should be encouraged to help bring peace to Sudan, I remain concerned about the actions of the junta that continue to deny citizens ownership of their country’s democratic transition, including through violence,” Idaho Sen. James Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Africa Report in an emailed statement. “Sudan’s junta needs to face accountability for its actions before and following the October 25 coup, which makes the likelihood of a credible dialogue with them all the more difficult.”

The State Department spokesperson said the agency is “committed to exploring measures that will keep Sudan’s transition on track” and looks forward to “cooperation with Congress toward that end”.

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