US – Sudan: Congress & State Department prepare new sanctions

By Julian Pecquet
Posted on Tuesday, 1 February 2022 23:16, updated on Wednesday, 2 February 2022 09:27

Sudan's General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan
Sudan's General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan looks on during an interview, in Khartoum, Sudan December 4, 2021. REUTERS/El Tayeb Siddig

The State Department and senators from both parties on Tuesday announced their intention to slap new sanctions on Sudan’s military regime unless it quickly restores the transition to civilian rule.

In her first appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since the 25 October coup, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee told lawmakers that the US had worked with its allies to impose “extraordinary economic pressure” on Khartoum. She said the freezing of some $4 bn in bilateral and multilateral assistance and $19bn worth of debt relief had left the country’s finances in a “precarious state” and more pain is possible.

“We have been clear that restoration of international financial assistance is predicated on ending the violence and restoring the democratic transition,” Phee said. “I have also made clear that we are prepared to apply additional costs, should the violence continue and the transition remain stalled.”

The Joe Biden administration, she added, is “now reviewing the full range of traditional and non-traditional tools at our disposal to further reduce the funds available to Sudan’s military regime, to isolate its military-controlled companies, and to increase the reputational risk for any who choose to continue to engage in business as usual with Sudanese security services and their economic enterprises.”

The committee’s Democratic chairman, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, announced he was working with his Republican counterpart James Risch of Idaho on new sanctions legislation.

“In the days to come, Congress will act as well,” Menendez vowed. “Ranking Member Risch and I are collaborating on legislation that establishes conditions that must be met prior to restarting assistance, that directs the Administration to rethink its assistance strategy, and which sets up a regime of targeted sanctions for those who undertook the coup and continue to undermine the transition to democracy and abuse human rights — thus far a critical missing element in the Administration response.”

Pressure to act

Lawmakers applauded the administration for suspending $700m in financial support to the government.

Testifying alongside Phee, US Agency for International Development (USAID) deputy administrator Isobel Coleman said the administration is revising plans for those funds. The agency is now “focused on ramping up support for Sudan’s democratic transition” in three primary areas, she said:

  • Strengthening the civilian political leadership;
  • Promoting respect for human rights, including freedom of expression and the right of peaceful assembly;
  • And supporting the Sudanese people’s demand for an end to their military’s longstanding domination of politics and the economy.

Menendez however faulted the administration for failing to impose targeted sanctions on those who undermined the transition and committed human rights abuses. He specifically mentioned military-controlled businesses in everything from mining to agriculture.

Phee said she agreed those were sectors where the US is exploring to apply pressure and is “actively looking” at how to do that. She added that existing sanctions, however, weren’t developed to deal with Sudan’s democratic backsliding and that her agency is looking at how it might “develop a new regime,” with Congress’ input.

“I was gratified to hear about the legislation you’re considering,” she said. “We are looking at non-traditional ways to get at these financial sources of power for the security forces.”

We are looking at non-traditional ways to get at these financial sources of power for the security forces.

Pressed later by Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin on whether human rights abusers will be punished, Phee said the State Department has a programme in place to help Sudanese advocates document human rights violations. Furthermore, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act is “a possibility we can immediately use.”

Global diplomacy

Phee has made two trips to Khartoum since she was sworn in at the end of September.

She said the US is working closely with the international community, notably the African Union, the European Union and Saudi Arabia in support of the United Nations. 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.

“UNITAMS will be in front, but not alone,” she said.

Menendez however raised concerns that the much vaunted UN mission “has no means to enforce participation, or to hold participants accountable for following through on commitments.”

He and Risch urged quick action on the nomination of the State Department’s acting counterterrorism coordinator John Godfry to serve as the first US ambassador to Sudan since 1996. They also applauded the announcement that ambassador Lucy Tamlyn would serve as charge d’affaires ad interim in the meantime.

Russian, Israeli wildcards

Asked about Russia’s refusal to condemn the coup leaders, Phee said the Russians were focused on their naval base at Port Sudan.

“Generally we can see by Russian conduct globally that they’re interested in exploiting insecurity for tactical and financial gain,” she said.

Israel is also a wildcard. The coup has put Sudan’s normalisation with Israel promised under the 2020 Abraham Accords on the backburner, and the US has pressed Israeli officials to use their ties with the Sudanese military to get them to back down.

Phee said special envoy for the Horn of Africa David Satterfield would be in Sudan on Wednesday “to discuss Israel’s concerns and interests in the region, including in Sudan.”

“We agree with you that it was a great prospect to apply the Abraham Accords to Sudan. But the normalisation efforts that were underway were part of a negotiation with a civilian-led government,” Phee told Tennessee Republican Bill Hagerty.

“Now that that government is no longer in place, we don’t feel it’s appropriate to push forward at this time. But that’s something we’re keeping a close eye on for an opportunity to resume. And it would be helpful if Israel would use its influence to encourage the transition to move forward so we can then move forward on other important objectives, like the Abraham Accords.”

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