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04.12.2019 Sudan

Hailing reforms, US exchanges ambassadors with Sudan after two decades

By Shaun TANDON
Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, seen here in November 2019, is making a rare visit to Washington.  By JOHN THYS (AFP/File)
LISTEN DEC 4, 2019
Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, seen here in November 2019, is making a rare visit to Washington. By JOHN THYS (AFP/File)

The United States said Wednesday it would name an ambassador to Sudan for the first time in 23 years as it welcomed the country's new reformist civilian leader.

The United States hailed early steps taken by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to "break with the policies and practices of the previous regime," which had tense relations with the West.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States would appoint an ambassador to Khartoum, subject to Senate confirmation, and that Sudan would restore full-level representation in Washington.

"This is a historic step to strengthen our bilateral relationship," Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

In an accompanying statement, Pompeo praised Hamdok's civilian-led transitional government for launching "vast reforms."

Hamdok has "demonstrated a commitment to peace negotiations with armed opposition groups, established a commission of inquiry to investigate violence against protestors, and committed to holding democratic elections at the end of the 39-month transition period," Pompeo said.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok meets with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel at the US Capitol.  By JIM WATSON (AFP) Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok meets with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel at the US Capitol. By JIM WATSON (AFP)

Hamdok, a British-educated former diplomat and UN official, is the first Sudanese leader to visit Washington since 1985.

However, he had a low-key welcome, meeting the State Department number-three, David Hale. Both Pompeo and President Donald Trump were away on foreign travel.

Hamdok also met with senior lawmakers and with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who said he welcomed the new government's "stated commitment to respecting human rights, fighting corruption and reforming Sudan's economy."

Mnuchin spoke to Hamdok about further work in combatting money laundering and terrorism financing, a Treasury spokesperson said.

Still seeking removal from terrorism blacklist

Hamdok took charge in August after months of demonstrations led by young people that brought down veteran strongman Omar al-Bashir and then a military council that had tried to stay in power.

The protests were triggered by discontent over the high cost of bread and other economic concerns.

The United States had tense relation with Bashir, who took power in 1989 and embraced Islamism, including welcoming Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Sudanese protesters call upon authorities to deliver justice for those killed in demonstrations against now ousted autocrat Omar al-Bashir.  By ASHRAF SHAZLY (AFP) Sudanese protesters call upon authorities to deliver justice for those killed in demonstrations against now ousted autocrat Omar al-Bashir. By ASHRAF SHAZLY (AFP)

In one legacy that still tarnishes relations, the United States classifies Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, a designation that the new government calls a severe impediment to foreign investment.

US officials, while voicing sympathy for Sudan's appeals, say that removal of the designation is a legal process that will take time.

Tensions also soared over Bashir's scorched-earth crackdown in the parched western region of Darfur, a campaign that the United States described as genocide as it pressed for the prosecution of Bashir.

The United States estimates that about 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million displaced in the conflict as Sudanese troops raped, killed, looted and burned villages against ethnic groups suspected of supporting rebels.

Hamdok last month traveled to Darfur where he met hundreds of victims of the conflict and assured them that he was working on their demands for lasting peace.

The transitional government has opened peace talks with rebels who fought Bashir's forces in Darfur as well as Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

Until now, the United States has been represented in Khartoum by a charge d'affaires rather than a full ambassador in a sign of poor relations.

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