US appoints veteran diplomat as special envoy to Sudan

Donald Booth is already in Sudan trying to promote a political solution to the leadership crisis

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 25, 2015, US special envoy to South Sudan Donald Booth speak to the press in Juba. The US State Department nominated experienced Africa hand Donald Booth as a special envoy to Sudan, on June 12, 2019, hoping he can help craft a "peaceful political solution" between the military rulers and groups seeking civilian rule. / AFP / SAMIR BOL
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Under pressure from Congress over its slow response to events in Sudan, the Trump administration announced on Wednesday the appointment of veteran diplomat Donald Booth as special envoy to the country.

Mr Booth served as the special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan during the Obama administration, from August 2013 until January 2017.

He was also chief of mission to Ethiopia, Zambia and Liberia.

The State Department said Mr Booth “will lead US efforts to support a political solution to the current crisis that reflects the will of the Sudanese people”.

Department spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, tweeted that the appointment showed Washington’s “firm commitment to the Sudanese people and efforts to advance a peaceful, political solution".

Mr Booth is accompanying the US assistant secretary of state for Africa, Tibor Nagy, on a trip to Sudan and Ethiopia.

The appointment comes after pressure from Congress on the Trump administration to be more proactive in its Sudan policy.

More than 70 members signed a letter urging the White House to appoint a special envoy, BBC Arabic reported.

“It is crucial that the US work to promote a peaceful transfer of power to the Sudanese people, who deserve self-determination and freedom,” House majority leader Steny Hoyer said.

After the military coup that overthrew Omar Al Bashir on April 11, a violent crackdown has been carried out by the security against the demonstrators and talks between the Transitional Military Council and civilian protest leaders have stalled.

The country’s security has cracked down on internet access and media coverage from Khartoum, as outside estimates put the death toll at 118.

The US is hoping to push for a civilian transition but it lacks extensive influence in Sudan after years of hostile relations between the two countries.

Barack Obama’s quiet engagement with Khartoum started in 2015 when he loosened some sanctions.

In 2017, the Trump administration lifted a 20-year trade embargo on Sudan, and the CIA opened an office there.

But the engagement process has been stopped and Sudan is still on a US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow at the Africa center at the Atlantic Council, describes the appointment of a special envoy as “an important first step in US diplomatic efforts to end the violence, protect the protesters, and ensure a civilian transition for the country.”

The expert who advised in the past former US envoys on Sudan, warned however, that “without a renewed strategy for achieving these goals I fear we will always be one step behind the military's tactical moves”.

The US also faces growing Chinese and Russian influence in Sudan.

Last week Russia and China blocked a statement at the UN to condemn the violent crackdown in the country.