‘We welcome the constructive engagement of the US with Sudan’
The Washington Times

Dr. Ghazi Salah Eddin Al Atabani is a long-time advisor of Sudan’s President Omar Hassan Al Bashir, and the point man on building better relations with the United States. He provided the following answers to questions from The Washington Times.
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, President Barack Obama"s special envoy to Sudan, on July 30 told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that in order for Washington to achieve its policy objectives in Sudan, it would have to end its designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, and end sanctions. What brought about this change?

In the process of reviewing Sudanese-American relations complete candor is necessary. Removing Sudan from the United States list of state sponsors of terrorism simply reflects reality: the fact is that Sudan has actively cooperated in the war on terrorism. Sudan’s listing in the first place in 1993 was a political act without any basis. Former President Carter asked at the time to see the evidence only to be told that there was none. The Sudanese government was also told on several occasions that it would come off this list if it signed peace agreements (which we did): there was self-evidently no link to any alleged terrorism but rather to political issues.

Sudan’s removal from the list would thus reflect reality, honor previous commitments and would help to reinforce our hope that US-Sudanese relations had moved on. This change in US policy toward Sudan is partly the result of what I may call the Obama Spirit, the demand for change which brought President Obama to office. On the other hand, the old policy simply didn"t work. As we have seen in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, it has even misled the US into making the wrong decisions. As a result, the American political class is becoming increasingly pressed to change course.

Gration said specifically: "We"re going to have to unwind some of these sanctions so that we can do the very things we need to do to ensure a peaceful transition to a state that is viable in the south, if they choose to do that." How have the sanctions prevented preparations for a peaceful transition?

At the political level the removal of questionable sanctions reinforces mutual trust between the United States and Sudan. Sanctions also undermine peace. The only reliable means of generating wealth in Sudan is the Sudanese economy. Any peace agreement, with agreed wealth sharing provisions, will increase the economic expectations of our people, and particularly those emerging from conflict. Continuing American sanctions and the associated divestment campaigns hinder western investment in our economy, negatively impact the poorest people in Sudan and in so doing weaken the peace processes in our country.

The removal of sanctions would make the reconstruction of southern Sudan that much easier and would make the case for unity that much more attractive. It would mean more revenues at the federal level and it would mean that American skills, technology and investment could be focused on sustaining the economic growth that is necessary throughout our country but especially in southern Sudan.

What has been accomplished by way of North-South integration since the peace treaty was signed in 2005?

Much has been accomplished. We now have the peace for which we have fought for fifty years; fragile as it may be, it is the single most important outcome of the Agreement and has survived all kinds of difficulties and challenges over the last four years.

Apart from that, power structures, both at national and regional (Southern Sudan) levels, have been set up. Revenue has been shared and as a result the South has received more than $7 billion. The budgets of many independent African countries in the neighbourhood pale in comparison to this figure.

What is Khartoum doing to encourage the South to vote for continued union with the North in the 2011 referendum?

The most significant incentive for the South to remain within a united Sudan is the Comprehensive Peace Agreement itself, which has accorded strong autonomy to the South, with its own government, its own army, its own judiciary and an independent source of revenue; and in addition, they have a 30% share in all the national power structures. We are actively building up the national infrastructures. Sudan’s air links, roads, railways and rivers are the arteries of unity, binding our country politically, economically and practically.

The alternative to that is a rump, land-locked state, adding a new member to the club of failed African states.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon recently said he thought the UNAMID (joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur) would be at 90 percent of its planned strength of 26,000 by the end of 2009. What will that mean on the ground in Darfur?

The deployment of the UNAMID peacekeeping force is to be welcomed for many reasons. It is a physical manifestation of the international community’s commitment to a peaceful solution to the Darfur crisis and its physical presence will undoubtedly stabilise a number of areas within Darfur. At the same time, however, the deployment of a peacekeeping force without a peace to keep is fraught with political and practical difficulties. UNAMID at best is merely holding the ring while the UN, AU and others continue to bring pressure to bear upon those rebel movements that continue to wage war.

When an arrest warrant was issued for President Omar Al Bashir by the International Criminal Court in March, Sudan expelled 13 foreign NGOs from Darfur. What is their status now?

We regularly review the contribution made by aid organisations in Darfur. Many aid workers have done a superb job in stabilising war-affected communities while we press for a peaceful solution to the conflict. The 13 foreign NGOs in question were expelled because there was credible intelligence that some workers within INGOs were supplying foreign authorities with questionable information from within Darfur itself. This fact was echoed by [ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-] Ocampo himself who, in order to corroborate his accusations against President Al Bashir, stated that he got some of his alleged evidence from NGOs working in Darfur. This broke their own codes of conduct, violated Sudanese law and compromised national security. There are still over 100 other NGOs active in Darfur. All the aid needed, food, health, shelter etc., by war-affected Darfurian communities has been met by Sudanese NGOs and other groups from within the Islamic and African worlds.

Has Khartoum managed to shut down the Janjaweed?

The continuing use of the term “Janjaweed” highlights the practical difficulties Sudan and the international community face in addressing the Darfur conflict. The 2005 UN Commission of Inquiry on Darfur was itself unable to define the term. The Reuters correspondent in Sudan has stated that “Janjaweed is a word that means everything and nothing.” Assertions that the government controls the “Janjaweed” – and that it can turn their activities off and on like a tap – have distorted the reality of events. Just as many of the Darfur rebel combatants are from Chad, many of the “Janjaweed” also straddle our border with Chad – making it very difficult to police or contain them. We note that the US with all its power projection has been unable to disarm militias within Iraq, some of them three miles away from the Green Zone in Bagdad. In Darfur, these militias are a thousand kilometres from Khartoum on the edge of the Sahara.

The “Janjaweed” are a symptom and by-product of the war in Darfur. Like all symptoms they will fade away once peace has been established. The huge sensationalist focus on the “Janjaweed” has diverted far too much attention away from the single most important thing in Darfur: achieving peace.

What are prospects for coming to an agreement with the rebels in Darfur?

We remain optimistic. The basis for a lasting peace in Darfur has already been agreed in principle in the internationally-brokered 2006 Abuja agreement. This addressed every one of the stated reasons for rebellion in Darfur. The agreement can be expanded and augmented as necessary. The Sudanese government is fully committed to talks to end the war once and for all any time and anywhere. The ball, however, is very much in the court of the rebel movements and the international community. The reality is that the international community has itself not followed through on its stated commitment to the peace process. The international approach has been contradictory and in some cases divisive.

What role would you like to see the United States play in Darfur and in preparations for the referendum in 2011?

We welcome the constructive engagement of the United States with Sudan, whether it be in Darfur or with regards to the 2011 referendum. In Darfur, the United States together with the United Kingdom and France have a crucial role to play in bringing the rebel movements to the negotiating table and in guaranteeing the implementation of a subsequent peace agreement.

The role played by Washington in brokering the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement was vital: there would not be peace in southern Sudan today without the work of then special envoy Senator [John] Danforth and his colleagues. With regard to the referendum, the removal of American economic sanctions against Sudan would greatly assist with the normalisation of day-to-day life throughout Sudan and would make unity that much more attractive to southern voters.