May 26, 2008 (SEOUL) — The top Sudanese official on Tuesday downplayed the possibility of normalizing ties with the US in the near future.
“We do not anticipate the normalization of ties in the short term” the Sudanese president Omar Hassan Al-Bashir told reporters in the South Korean capital where he attended
“There are many obstacles and lobbies in the US that do not want to see positive development of this relation” he said.
Al-Bashir statements come hours before the US special envoy to Sudan Richard Williamson was due to arrive in Khartoum for a second round of negotiations with Khartoum on normalizing ties.
Sudan official news agency (SUNA) said that Williamson will meet with Sudanese officials and also visit South Darfur.
However it is not clear if the US envoy will visit South Sudan where some of the worst fighting has erupted between the Sudanese army and Southern ex-rebels in the oil region of Abyei.
The spokesman of the Sudanese foreign ministry Ali Al-Sadek said that both sides will discuss the situation in Darfur, Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the bilateral relations.
The talks were scheduled for early last week but were delayed for unknown reasons. However the head of US affairs in the Sudanese foreign ministry Abdel-Basit Al-Sanoosi told SUNA that the postponement was due to the attack by Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) on the capital May 10th.
Williamson met in Rome last April with a Sudanese delegation headed by Sudan Nafi and included Sudan’s spy chief Salah Gosh as well as foreign minister Deng Alor.
News of the meeting drew widespread in the US from lawmakers and Darfur advocates who think that the Sudanese government has not lived up to its previous commitments with regards to Darfur and partially to the North-South agreement.
Democratic White House contender Barack Obama issued a statement saying he was “deeply concerned” over reports that the Bush administration is negotiating with Sudan over normalizing ties.
The New York Times (NYT) obtained a series of documents exchanged between Washington and Khartoum on a series of steps to normalize relations between the two countries. The documents were leaked by an unidentified US official described as being “critical of the administration’s position”.
The report said that the Bush administration could remove Sudan from an American list of state supporters of terrorism and normalize relations if the Sudanese government agreed, among other steps, to allow Thai and Nepalese peacekeepers as part of the peacekeeping force.
But yesterday Al-Sadek said his government has not accepted Thai and Nepalese forces in Darfur.
Williamson told US lawmakers that the NYT report is “not accurate” and that if it was “he would not defend it and would not engage in it”. He further said that it was the Sudanese government which approached Washington on the requirements for normalizing ties.
“Concrete, verifiable, significant progress must be achieved on the ground before we can contemplate improved relations” Williamson said.
Williamson also told a group of Darfur activists in a conference call sponsored by Enough Project from Washington that he does not foresee improvement of ties with Sudan “during his tenure”.
“There has to be changes on the ground before any improvement in relations” the US envoy said.
He further said that tougher sanctions remain an option on the table if the US president Bush deems them necessary.
But following the Rome negotiations the Sudanese government decided to release containers belonging to the US embassy that was being held by custom authorities in Port Sudan for over a year.
The containers contained equipments that were to be used for new embassy complex in south Khartoum that was under construction for over two years.
The daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat quoting unidentified Sudanese official said that the US administration agreed to “re-open a bank account for the Sudanese embassy in Washington” in return.
Earlier this month Washington also released a number of Sudanese inmates held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay.