WASHINGTON: The United States has offered to remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism early to keep a January referendum that may partition the country on track, officials said Sunday.
President Barack Obama’s offer, which would not affect US sanctions against Khartoum related to the war-torn western region of Darfur, was proposed on his behalf by Senator John Kerry during weekend meetings with Sudanese officials.
The administration had taken a decision "to move up our readiness to rescind the designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism as early as July 2011," senior officials told journalists during a conference call.
This was provided that the Khartoum government prepares and conducts a "transparent on-time referendum on the status of southern Sudan" and "reflects the results of that referendum," the officials said.
Between January and July, Khartoum must also "implement all the appropriate post-referendum agreements as relates to among other things border demarcation, oil revenue sharing, currency, citizenship, and other matters."
Kerry said during a visit to Sudan on Sunday that he had delivered a roadmap aimed at resolving disputes between the north and south before the January referendum that may partition the country.
The Muslim north and mostly Christian south agreed in 2005 to hold the referendum as part of a peace deal that ended a 22-year civil war.
The peace deal gave the former southern rebels, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, semi-autonomous powers and a share in government, and promised a referendum on southern independence.
Analysts say the south is expected to vote for independence in the Jan. 9 referendum.
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir had said he would not accept an alternative to unity despite his commitment to the peace deal with the south, but more recently pledged good ties whatever the outcome of the referendum.
Preparations for the vote are behind schedule and the north and south have yet to agree on where the border between them lies.
A planned simultaneous vote on whether the contested oil-rich border region of Abyei will join the north or the south is likely to be delayed.
Kerry, who was also in Sudan last month, met Vice President Ali Othman Taha and President Omar Al-Bashir’s adviser Ghazi Salaheddin on Saturday before traveling to Juba to meet vice president and southern leader Salva Kiir.
Kerry, who provided no details on the Obama proposal, met presidential aide Nafie Ali Nafie in Khartoum before leaving the country.
The White House said on Monday it would extend sanctions on Sudan in place since 1997 for another year because Bashir’s government continued to pose an "extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States."
In his last visit, Kerry warned of tougher sanctions against Sudan if either north or south hindered the referendum on independence.
Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March 2009 for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity over atrocities in Darfur. In July 2010 he was charged with genocide.
The US officials, who spoke Sunday on condition of anonymity, said the ICC indictment against Bashir was not a matter for discussion in Kerry’s talks with the various parties.
Countries on the list of state sponsors of terrorism are not eligible for American aid or for US arms purchases, and bilateral trade is restricted. As of now the list includes Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.
The United States has banned virtually all trade with Sudan since 1997.