US seeking to boost Sudan's civilian leadership with upcoming visits

White House questions public signing of Abraham Accords between Sudan and Israel given unrest in Khartoum

Mr Hamdok has been extended an invitation to visit the White House, but the full scope and the timing of the trip is still being discussed. UN Web TV via AP
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The US envoy for the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, will depart for Sudan this week in the hopes of boosting the civilian wing of Khartoum’s transitional government and prepare for Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s trip to the White House, expected to occur next month.

Mr Feltman’s visit comes days after Khartoum foiled an attempted coup by army officers and civilians loyal to the regime of ousted dictator Omar Al Bashir.

Last Friday, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan called Mr Hamdok and said “any attempt by military actors to undermine the spirit and agreed benchmarks of Sudan’s constitutional declaration would have significant consequences for the US-Sudan bilateral relationship and planned assistance.”

Mr Sullivan invited Mr Hamdok to the White House for a meeting with President Joe Biden. This visit is expected to occur next month, sources tell The National, but its full scope and the timing are still being discussed.

Before the thwarted coup, leaders in Washington and Khartoum were planning to host an official ceremony for the signing the Abraham Accords, which Sudan quietly signed on to with Israel in January.

But with the threat of instability in Sudan, the US is now focusing its efforts on boosting civilian leadership before wading into regional files.

Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council's Africa Centre, sees the diplomatic visits as coming at a critical moment in Sudan's transition.

“It is critical that Washington not allow an ounce of daylight between itself and Sudan's civilian leaders. The military is looking for any signal that we would acquiesce to their subversion of the transition process,” Mr Hudson said.

Both Mr Feltman’s visit and the White House's invitation to Mr Hamdok “send a clear message that the benefits that Washington has offered only come if and when Sudan genuinely reforms,” he said.

Mr Hudson also said that he thinks the White House realises that reform cannot wait for the signing of the Accords.

“This visit is now very time-sensitive, much more so than the signing of the accords,” Mr Hudson said.

For now, the “US must make clear that all its support, goodwill and assistance is entirely conditioned upon this transition remaining civilian-led and that under no circumstances should the military think that the US would accept a return to a pre-revolution status quo in Sudan,” he added.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Mariam Sadiq Al Mahdi told The National that there are no normalisation talks with Israel.

“There are no talks at any official level,” Ms Al Mahdi said. “Abolishing a law on boycotting Israel does not mean that we are considering opening an Israeli embassy in Khartoum.”

Sudan’s signing on to the Abraham Accords this year came after the Donald Trump administration removed Sudan from the US state sponsors of terrorism list — in exchange for Khartoum paying $335 million to compensate the victims of Al Qaeda’s 1998 attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and its involvement in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.

The designation had prevented the US from delivering development and humanitarian aid to the country.

This year alone, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided more than $284m in humanitarian aid to Sudan with the removal.

But that funding could be in jeopardy should a coup against Sudan’s transitional government eventually succeed, according to US laws.

Last week’s failed coup spotlighted the ruptures that have developed between Sudan’s civilian interim government and the military, which joined forces in a power-sharing deal following the 2019 removal of Mr Al Bashir.

But it is unclear how much support Sudan’s civilian leaders could muster, as the country’s deteriorating economic condition has significantly diminished public enthusiasm for the interim government.

A debate over whether to turn Mr Al Bashir over to the International Criminal Court has further stoked tension between Sudanese civilian and military leaders, Ms Al Mahdi said in her interview with The National.

“The citizens on the street will never allow any coup against their revolution,” she said.

“On Sudan, I do believe the US officials when they say they are fully supporting our transition towards democracy. This is not a mere wish but an objective talk as Sudan’s stability is pivotal for East Africa and the entire region.”

Updated: September 28, 2021, 1:41 PM