The U.S. and Sudan Move To Mend Ties

2 MINS READSep 2, 1999 | 05:00 GMT
Mutual invitations for visits between top-level U.S. and Sudanese officials this week indicate a warming of relations between Khartoum and Washington, giving the U.S. more strategic options in sub Saharan Africa. These developments come on the heels an IMF announcement earlier this week that financial sanctions had been lifted. And, this week, oil has begun to flow from southern Sudanese wells.

AFP reported that during a recent trip to Nairobi, where U.S. Charge d'Affaires to Sudan Donald Teitelbaum is stationed, Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail invited Teitelbaum to visit Khartoum later this month. In addition, the pro-government Sudanese newspaper, Alwan, stated the U.S. had agreed to a Washington visit by Sudan's Tokyo-based envoy Khidir Haroun.

The offer comes after Khartoum turned down a Teitelbaum request to visit the country last month, apparently because it would have coincided with the first anniversary of the U.S. air strike on a pharmaceuticals plant there.

There is a growing rapprochement between the U.S. and Sudan. It all began with the July 13 announcement that President Clinton was to appoint a special envoy to the Sudan conflict. Sudan responded with cautious optimism to the proposal.

Sudan is still on the hotlist of countries supporting terrorism and a guerrilla army. And rebels previously supported by the U.S. are still battling the government. Coincidentally, as overtures to Khartoum increased, U.S. support for the rebels decreased.

A warmer U.S. stance toward Sudan explains the frantic motions by Sudanese rebel groups to make peace with the government. These groups have received support from the U.S. in the past. Besides, U.S. rapprochement with Khartoum is evidence this U.S. support has dried up.

Strategically, mending ties with Sudan also fits nicely into the U.S. strategy of isolating the many African conflicts. The conflict in southern Sudan links the hot war between Ethiopia and Eritrea with the simmering Democratic Republic of Congo conflict.

For what it is worth, the area of Sudan between the other major African conflicts is also oil country. Increased U.S. support for the government and decreased support for the rebels portend a stabilization of oil exports. At the other end of the pipeline, it also gives the U.S. greater strategic influence over the shipping lanes in the Red Sea. Since the Somalia debacle, U.S. littoral influence on the Red Sea has been a strategic weak spot.

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