Is Sudan Coming In From the Cold?

Is Sudan Coming In From the Cold?
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir speaks at the India-Africa Forum Summit, New Delhi, Oct. 29, 2015 (AP photo by Bernat Armangue).

One of the more unexpected decisions to emerge in the waning days of Barack Obama’s presidency was his move last week to ease U.S. sanctions against Sudan that have been in place for nearly two decades. His administration initiated the shift after what it described as six months of “positive actions” by the government in Khartoum, including a reduction in internal conflicts, the opening of the country to aid operations and Sudan’s assistance in global counterterrorism efforts.

If the “change in behavior” continues for another six months, Washington promised to reauthorize trade between the United States and Sudan and unblock Sudanese government assets—moves that could transform the North African country’s beleaguered economy. The new Trump administration has said little about the move, though officials in Khartoum reported it came with his team’s approval. Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has been a long-time opponent of sanctions while CEO of Exxon Mobil, and there are reports his company actually did business with Sudan through an intermediary, despite the prohibitions.

Obama’s decision is the latest signal, following the announcement of a substantial new European aid package to Sudan last year, that the reputation of one of the international community’s longest-standing pariahs is undergoing a dramatic rehabilitation. A rehabilitation, human rights activists say, that is completely undeserved.

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