US cautiously welcomes Sudan deal but aid suspension continues

Congress says other measures must be in place before Washington's pressure on Khartoum is lifted

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described Mr Hamdok’s return to power about a month after the October 25 coup as encouraging. AP
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The administration of US President Joe Biden cautiously welcomed Sunday’s agreement in Sudan to reinstate Abdullah Hamdok as prime minister following last month's military takeover, but the US is looking for more action to be taken before resuming full aid to Khartoum.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken described Mr Hamdok’s return to power about a month after the October 25 coup as encouraging.

“I am encouraged by reports that talks in Khartoum will lead to the release of all political prisoners, reinstatement of prime minister Hamdok, lifting of the state of emergency and resumption of co-ordination,” Mr Blinken tweeted.

Mr Hamdok’s return was a major request from Washington, and the US envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee held talks with Sudan’s military leaders to push for the new deal that included the ousted prime minister's reinstatement.

But Mr Blinken made clear that Sunday’s announcement is not enough to ease strained relations with Khartoum. He called for more talks and efforts “to complete key transitional tasks on a civilian-led path to democracy in Sudan".

Those tasks include reviving the constitutional document that ensures a transition to civilian rule before elections are held in 2023.

On Monday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Mr Blinken had called both Mr Hamdok and Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan who led the coup last month.

"The secretary had an opportunity today to speak to Prime Minister Hamdok to speak to Gen Al Burhan," he said.

"We must continue to see progress. We must continue to see Sudan move back down the democratic path. And that starts with the reinstitution of the prime minister but it certainly doesn’t end there."

Mr Price called for the full implementation of the Al Burhan-Hamdok agreement, the creation of a transitional Legislative Council and the release of all civilian leaders and figures held in connection to the military takeover. He also stressed the need to the lift the state of emergency that was imposed during the coup.

Following the takeover, high-ranking members of Congress from both parties put forth bills to sanction Sudan's military leadership if the coup is not reversed, but some have expressed cautious optimism over the new deal, with chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Gregory Meeks describing Sunday’s deal “a first step”.

“This is but a first step to undo the harm from an unjustified coup … the world is watching and will hold military and civilian authorities accountable for their actions,” he said.

The Biden administration has not yet lifted aid suspension to Sudan, which went into effect after the coup. The suspension involves “pausing” payments to a $700 million appropriation fund.

Following the removal of Omar Al Bashir in 2019, the US became the largest humanitarian aid donor to Sudan.

In 2021, it provided about $337m to support Sudan's transitional government and helped Khartoum in its talks with the International Monetary Fund, which granted the African nation $50 billion in debt relief and $2.4bn in funding last June.

However Alberto Fernandez, a former US charge d’affaires in Sudan, said the agreement on Sunday does not go far enough.

“It returns the situation to pre-October 25 on the surface, with no real consequences for the actions of the military and the other coup plotters,” Mr Fernandez, who is now a fellow at The Middle East Media Research Institute, told The National.

“Maybe it was the best the international community could get, but it doesn't look great.”

He expected a tough job ahead for Mr Hamdok “to clean up the mess caused by the generals [and their Darfur warlord allies] and to find a way to appease the street over what looks like a deal between elites and the military".

Mr Fernandez called for the administration to “help Mr Hamdok as much as possible to succeed in his reform work and prepare the groundwork for punitive individual actions against the coup plotters” to prevent it from happening again.

He expressed concern, however, over the administration’s perceived weakness and constrained leverage in the region and questioned its ability to apply sustained, nuanced action.

Updated: November 22, 2021, 7:54 PM