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Washington responds to Sudan’s changing foreign policy

December 4, 2017 at 5:26 am

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and President of Sudan Omar Al-Bashir shake hands as they pose for a photo during their meeting in Sochi, Russia on 23 November 2017. [Kremlin Press Office/Handout ]

The timing of the call to withdraw Sudan’s troops from Yemen may just be a coincidence; however, ten days after Sudan’s President, Omar Al-Bashir, met in Sochi the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, fears have intensified that Sudan may pursue a changed foreign policy that would strengthen relations with Moscow, move the country away from the United States and radically alter its relationship with the US supported Gulf states.

MEMO understands that despite Al-Bashir’s pronouncements in Russia, the mood in the American administration remains surprisingly positive and attempts to establish diplomatic channels designed to be more amenable to Sudan’s demands are being considered, although these fall short of direct contact with President Al-Bashir himself.

Those Sudanese demands include the lifting of its name from the state sponsor of terror list (SST), the easing of debt relief, the application of pressure on rebel groups to end the armed conflict in Darfur and other regions and the genuine opening-up of investment opportunity including into military hardware and technical co-operation treaties.

Al-Bashir’s appears to have set the cat among the pigeons in Washington when he openly critiqued the American government and held them responsible for interference in the Arab region and for the partition of Sudan. His outburst included a request for protection from Russia and a veiled invitation to Moscow to build a military base on Sudanese soil to protect the Sudan from American aggression. His comments have been criticized by opposition parties in Sudan including the Popular Congress Party (PCP) led by Dr. Ali Al-Haj.

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During the closing statement at the end of his meeting with Putin, Al-Bashir also lent support to the Russian military intervention in September 2015 into the Syrian conflict. Sudan’s alignment with Russia cast doubt on the role of Khartoum in the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The withdrawal of Sudan troops from Yemen would be widely viewed as a major setback for the Saudi alliance and would severely damage Sudan’s relationship with the Gulf States.

It is understood that voices in Washington have long been uncomfortable with the pivotal role that Sudan’s armed forces play in Yemen; to the extent that informal talks to explore and discuss how best to introduce another supporting military country on the front line of operations in Yemen has been a topic of discussion for some months. Estimates differ on the numbers of Sudanese soldiers that have died in the conflict but confirmed media reports does not appear to exceed 60 fatalities and unconfirmed estimates put the number at no more than one hundred.

MEMO was told consideration was given to using troops from three other named Muslim-majority countries, but there were fears that the nature of the conflict would change and the coalition might have to face accusations of violations perpetrated by less disciplined soldiers than the Sudanese.

In an article this weekend on Al Jazeera network an anonymous government sources were quoted as saying, “There are logical reasons for the (Sudan) government to reconsider the continuation of Sudanese forces in Yemen.”

Indeed, muted voices have been heard from within the ruling party and from opposition groups like the Popular Congress Party (PCP) to withdraw troops for fear of being associated with the international condemnation of the coalition repeated strikes on civilians, the spread of cholera and the state of famine in Yemen.

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MEMO’s sources confirm that no government minister has yet openly questioned Sudan’s role or called for the evacuation of its forces, but political commentator, Abbas Mohamed Saleh, said that situation would only change if there was a major difference in the political situation in Yemen, “It is quite feasible that the current fighting between the former leader of Yemen’s Abdullah Saleh’s forces and the Houthi rebels in Sann’a may lead to an agreement which might change to Sudan’s role in Yemen but for now there is no signal from Khartoum that its forces are likely to be unilaterally withdrawn.”

Despite this, Sudan does appear to be challenging the American administration in several ways to increase the pressure to normalise the Khartoum-Washington relationship. The recent exit of Burundi from the International Criminal Court (ICC) has provided a platform for Sudan to criticise the institution wants to try Sudan’s President, Omar Al-Bashir, as a war criminal. It is no secret that Washington views the ICC as a weak institution and has declined to join the body or even to punish countries via the United Nation’s Security Council (UNSC) for not complying to the ICC arrest warrants.

Nevertheless, given the American own stance towards the ICC, Sudan which is supported by the African Union and the Arab League are all but touting the idea that the charge against Bashir be quashed. Furthermore, Sudan has advocated that the US stay clear of the ICC and from the association with the European colonisation of Africa. In an article by journalist and Sudan’s Press Attaché Mekki El Mograbi advocates that the US adopt a new Monroe Doctrine, a policy by in the 1920s which distanced itself from European colonial practices, “The US should cut it short and cooperate with African countries on the issues of the ICC. Let Europe lose Africa if they so choose, why should the US risk alienating Africa? In fact, US needs a new Monroe Doctrine or it will lose Africa in a miscalculation,” he wrote.

MEMO understands that Washington have given the go ahead for the second stage of sanctions relief to be considered and appears to be bowing to the pressure of journalists, foreign diplomats and activists speaking assertively about Sudan’s role in the US counter-terrorism agenda. That role through border control operation, intelligence gathering and sharing, in addition to placing blocks on money laundering sources of financing terror across the African continent is ongoing.

If the British defense magazine, Jane’s Weekly 360 is to be believed, in an article published 29thth November, Sudan’s track record on counter-terrorism, the danger of the strategic Arab-African nation joining the Eastern Russian bloc and the sustained diplomatic pressure, could see Sudan’s removal from the states sponsoring terror list (SST) “before end-December.”

Following a series of meetings between the US Administration and Sudan in Khartoum and in Washington last month, there is an air of optimism that a deal could be reached that would fully integrate Sudan into family of nations that would be aligned to Sudanese, Western, African and Arab geo-political objectives.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.