US Congress preparing Sudan sanctions bill

Bipartisan package would sanction Sudanese military leaders while laying out conditions for aid to resume

Sudanese people in Khartoum protest against the deaths of fellow demonstrators during earlier rallies. EPA
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US senators are drafting a bipartisan sanctions bill intended to sanction Sudanese military leaders responsible for last year’s coup against the civilian-led transitional government and set conditions necessary for American foreign aid to resume.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez announced on Tuesday that he is collaborating on the legislation with James Risch, the top Republican on the panel.

Although they have not yet introduced the bill, Mr Menendez noted that the legislation establishes “conditions that must be met prior to restoring assistance” while directing President Joe Biden's administration to “rethink its assistance strategy".

He added that it would also set up “a regime of targeted sanctions for those who undertook the coup and continue to undermine democracy and abuse human rights, thus far a critical missing element of the administration response".

Mr Menendez announced the draft legislation during a Senate hearing on Sudan, when he pushed Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee on the administration’s decision not to levy sanctions on Sudanese military leaders so far.

He said that the administration has “failed” to make use of existing sanctions authorities to sanction more than 250 companies reportedly owned by Sudanese security forces “in various sectors from mining to agriculture".

Ms Phee welcomed the Sudan sanctions legislation, noting that the State Department agrees that it “should explore” sanctions on those sectors. But she suggested that the Biden administration may not have the legal authority necessary to do so, absent new legislation.

“Our traditional existing regimes were not specifically designed for this moment,” she said.

“We’re looking at how we might develop a new regime in which we can work with you, and I was gratified to hear about the legislation you’re considering.

“We’re also looking at non-traditional ways to get at these financial sources of power for the security forces.”

Ms Phee lambasted Sudan’s military leaders on Twitter last week, accusing them of backtracking on commitments they made to her during a visit to Khartoum in January alongside David Satterfield, the new US envoy for the Horn of Africa.

Following their January visit, Ms Phee and Mr Satterfield threatened Sudanese military leaders with unspecified additional penalties should they fail to enable a peaceful political transition.

Still, Ms Phee told the Senate that the Sudanese security forces “are difficult, but they are not monolithic".

“Some of them, I think, would truly like to effect a transition,” she said. “They don’t know how to do it. They’re falling back on their old playbook.”

Sudanese security forces have repeatedly cracked down on anti-coup protesters, killing about 80 civilians and wounding hundreds of others since October.

Security forces try to disperse protesters in Sudan

Security forces try to disperse protesters in Sudan

Washington suspended $700 million in US foreign aid for Sudan following last year’s coup.

While Mr Menendez has welcomed the freeze, his legislation would seek to codify the conditions the Sudanese government must meet for that aid to resume.

“The pause of bilateral and multilateral assistance to the government and of debt relief has left the country’s finances in a precarious state, unable to meet its current financial obligations,” said Ms Phee.

“We have been clear that the only path to restoration of international financial assistance is predicated on ending the violence and restoring the democratic transition.”

The US had granted the foreign assistance to Sudan after Khartoum signed on to the Abraham Accords, normalising relations with Israel.

But Ms Phee noted that the Biden administration is not currently pushing Sudan to deepen ties with Israel amid the political upheaval.

“The normalisation efforts that were under way were part of a negotiation with a civilian-led government,” said Ms Phee.

“Now that the government is no longer in place, we don’t feel it’s appropriate to push forward at this time, but that’s something we’re keeping a close eye on for an opportunity to resume.

“And it would be helpful if Israel would use its influence to encourage the transition to go forward so then we can move forward on other important objectives like the Abraham Accords.”

Sudanese military leaders were the driving force behind normalising ties with Israel under the transitional government led by former prime minister Abdalla Hamdok.

Mr Satterfield will arrive in Israel on Wednesday to discuss Sudan as part of a two-week trip to the region, which includes a stop in the UAE.

The UAE joined the US, Saudi Arabia and the UK in calling for a return to Sudan’s transitional government shortly after last year’s coup.

Updated: February 01, 2022, 6:56 PM