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US/Sudan Rapprochement: Mending the Rift

Muawad Mustafa Rashid – Khartoum

Last week, a US Military Maritime Transport Command rapid transport ship, the USNS Carson City, arrived at Port Sudan’s harbor on the Red Sea to enhance maritime security in the region.

The move is considered a new indication of post-embargo thaw in Sudan-US relations.

In a social media statement, the US Embassy in Khartoum stated that the arrival of the naval ship is the first in decades, indicating that its arrival refers to the US Armed Forces’ “readiness to enhance the renewed partnership with the Sudanese Armed Forces”.

“Today, the Military Sealift Command expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Carson City arrived in Port Sudan, Sudan” the US Embassy said.

“This is the first US Navy ship to visit Sudan in decades and highlights the willingness of the United States Armed Forces to strengthen their renewed partnership with the Sudanese Armed Forces”.

The US Embassy statement points out that “this visit follows the visit to Khartoum in January by US Africa Command’s Deputy Commander for Civil-Military Engagement, Ambassador Andrew Young, and Director of Intelligence, Rear Admiral Heidi Berg, to expand cooperative engagement”.

After the impressive vessel docked at the port’s northeast quay, Capt Frank Okata, commodore, Military Sealift Command Europe and Africa and Commander, Task Force 63 was ‘piped ashore’.

Andrew Young greeting Sudanese military personnel, courtesy of U.S. Embassy in Sudan

A Thaw in Relations

Both visits (USNS Carson City, the Andrew Young delegation) are indicative of a thaw in Sudan-US relations in the wake of the removal of Sudan from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST) on December 14, 2020 after 30 years of sanctions.

Sudan’s removal from the SST list, decreed in the dying days of the Donald Trump administration, was conditional on a bilateral claims settlement signed in November 2020 to resolve “default judgments and claims based on allegations that Sudan’s prior regime supported acts of terrorism”.

Sudan had to pay $335 million, on top of approximately $72 million already paid, for distribution to victims of terrorism.

In exchange, after compensating the families of the victims of the bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, and the 1998 bombing of the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, the default judgments and claims against Sudan in US courts would be dismissed, and Sudan’s sovereign immunities under US law would be restored.

“We are honored to work with our Sudanese partners in the enhancement of maritime security” Capt Okata said.

Accelerated Rapprochement Steps

Last month a U.S. deputy commander for Africa visited Sudan as a sign of new beginnings and renewed relationships between the U.S. and Sudan, following Sudan’s removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Andrew Young, deputy commander at U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), commented on the visit by saying “This is a new beginning and the start of a renewed relationship between the U.S. and Sudan”.

“This is a journey we want to take together,” Young told Sudanese troops at a military academy in the capital Khartoum. “We want to deepen and broaden our relationship and pursue shared objectives.”

Observers see that the escalated steps and openness of the bilateral relations between Khartoum and Washington stem from the strategic importance of Sudan for its geographic location in the Horn of Africa and its significant role in the fight against extremist organization such as Daesh, Al-Qaeda, Shabab Al-Mujahdeen etc.

The bilateral relations between Washington and Khartoum witnessed a significant improvement in the fight against terrorism.

What was benefited was the exchange of intelligence over terrorist groups in the region and Washington’s desire to build strong relations with the transitional government in order to downsize Iranian expansion in the Red Sea region.

We believe that Sudan with its vast arable lands and rich natural resources in terms of agriculture and minerals could be a market for the US investments as a gate to Africa to balance out the Chinese economic penetration.

On the other hand, the improvement of the bilateral relations between Washington and Khartoum will bring an end to Sudan’s international isolation.

That, in addition to lifting economic burdens and the flow of the foreign investments, especially US investments, that Sudan requires in its transitional period within the economic challenges facing the government.

In short, political and economic interests are the major reasons for the improvement of the relations between Khartoum and Washington, replacing more than two decades’ worth of hostility with rapprochement.

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