Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 October 2009
Issue No. 969
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

We haven't seen the carrot

A sea change has occurred in US policy towards Sudan. Khartoum would do well to take note and adapt, writes Asmaa El-Husseini

Finally, Washington has declared its new policy on Sudan. Flanked by Scott Gration, the US special envoy to Sudan, and Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the US shift on Sudan, one that has been seven months in the making. It is no secret that top US diplomats have bickered repeatedly over Sudan, with some advising a soft approach and others advising a hardline approach.

The new policy boils down to a carrot-and- stick approach. Clinton told reporters that the US wishes to see: the Darfur crisis resolved; a referendum held in south Sudan; and terrorists blocked from using Sudan as a safe haven. Clinton promised to engage the Sudanese government in talks until the above objectives are achieved. But she warned that any reluctance to cooperate would be met with stern action on the part of America and its allies.

At least some Sudanese gave a cautious welcome to the new policy. Sudanese presidential adviser Ghazi Salaheddin said Washington has gotten over the "extreme" views that had been voiced in the past, when US officials threatened military intervention and the introduction of no-fly zones in Darfur.

The new policy is a sign of the fresh thinking of President Obama, Salaheddin pointed out. He voiced hope that the bickering inside the Obama administration over Sudan had ended and that Washington would speak to Sudan with one voice.

According to Salaheddin, the new policy is less than specific when it comes to what Sudan should do. Perhaps in practical implementation the US strategy would become clearer, he said. Salaheddin wasn't happy about the "carrot and stick" reference, considering it an affront to Sudan. He said that the US administration needed to act fairly towards Sudan and all other countries in the region.

Other Sudanese saw nothing positive in the new US policy towards Sudan. Some said that the Democratic Party's policy is known to be hard-line, recalling that the bombing of a pharmaceutical factor in Khartoum took place under Bill Clinton. "We haven't seen any carrots," one observer told Al-Ahram Weekly, recalling that Sudan expected to be rewarded for signing the agreements of 2005 and 2006 while it was punished instead.

One thing that is certain about the new policy, it seems to have reconciled the views of moderates and hardliners in the Obama administration. There are two currents within the US administration: one that wants a more flexible approach towards Sudan and the other that urges a hardline stand. The first current is led by Scott Gration and John Kerry and the second Susan Rice. Clinton appears to favour the hardliners.

The policy declared so far is less hardline than earlier pronouncements by President Obama about Sudan. According to The Washington Post, the new policy is softer than earlier positions taken by Obama during his presidential campaign last year. Back then he urged stricter sanctions against Khartoum, as well as a no-fly zone in Darfur.

The new policy aims to engage Sudan rather than isolate it. It would be tricky, of course, to engage a country while trying to isolate its president. Even the dovish Gration said at one point that he hadn't met Omar Al-Bashir and didn't intend to meet him. This means that the case of the International Criminal Court and its arrest warrant on Al-Bashir remains active.

Indeed, there have been rumours about a deal between Khartoum and Washington, one by which Washington would drop the trial of Al-Bashir in return for specific actions by Khartoum. This cannot be true, at least not anymore. Perhaps Washington remembered its earlier failure in Iraq, where the country disintegrated after the removal of the regime.

In general, Washington seems to be interested in talking to new people inside and outside the regime. It recognises the weakness of the opposition both in the north and the south. Judging by what Washington has been doing for the past few years, it seems that the Americans are trying to dismantle the regime piece by piece.

The fact that agreements concluded so far haven't led to the downfall of the regime seems to irritate the Americans, who are quite aware of the strategic importance of Sudan for US policy in Africa and the Middle East, as well as its significance for developments related to Islam and terror.

Numerous pressure groups have been active in Washington over the past few days, in an attempt to change the wording of the policy on Sudan. This may explain why the word "genocide" was used in connection with Darfur.

There are other developments that may have influenced the US position on Sudan, also. These include the statements SPLM Secretary-General Pagan Amum made to US congressmen, and the fact that the Sudanese first vice-president sent a message to President Obama in which he blamed the National Congress Party for all the troubles of the south, as well as delays in the implementation of the 2005 peace agreement.

Pressures on Sudan will continue so long as the country is incapable of finding a solution for its domestic troubles. There cannot be a better time for Sudan's leaders to come up with initiatives that may save their country from foreign intervention and possible partition.

By Asmaa El-Husseini

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