For two decades, the United States has imposed sanctions on the African nation of Sudan. But on Wednesday, most of those trade and financial sanctions are slated to be lifted for good in a controversial move initiated under the Obama administration. We’ve got NPR’s East Africa correspondent, Eyder Peralta, on the line to walk us through what’s going on. Hi, Eyder.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hi, Lakshmi.
SINGH: So let’s begin, when were the sanctions imposed, and why were they imposed?
PERALTA: Some of them go back to 1997. And they have to do with the U.S. accusing Sudan of supporting terrorists and having an awful record on human rights. President Bill Clinton ordered sanctions in large part because of Sudan’s support for Osama bin Laden, who found a safe haven in the capital Khartoum in the ’90s.
About a decade later, President George W. Bush added more sanctions in response to the situation in Darfur. And that’s when the Sudanese government mounted a violent offensive against rebels in the region. The U.S. called it a genocide. One thing that is very telling about this whole situation is that Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, is the only sitting head of state facing charges from the International Criminal Court. Bashir is accused of war crimes.
SINGH: So what’s changed now?
PERALTA: Toward the end of his term, the Obama administration met twice a month with Khartoum to try and iron out differences. At the end of that, they said Sudan had made significant improvements. They said it was allowing humanitarian aid to flow into conflict areas and that it had essentially stopped bombing rebels in the Nuba Mountains and in Darfur. I spoke to Sudan’s foreign minister, Ibrahim grandeur, earlier today. He was blunt with me. He said the sanctions were biting. Let’s listen to a bit of that.
IBRAHIM GHANDOUR: The sanctions were so tight, they were affecting the general population. And this is why the government’s determined to discuss those issues in a very transparent and candid discussion with the U.S. government and authorities.
PERALTA: Obama ultimately decided to lift some of the economic sanctions temporarily. And the U.S. issued a kind of deadline. If the incoming secretary of state found that Sudan kept up its good behavior for six months, all of those sanctions would be permanently lifted.
SINGH: I know we said earlier that this was a controversial move, so who opposes the lifting of these sanctions?
PERALTA: A few people. Last month, for example, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers wrote a letter to President Trump, urging him to not lift the sanctions. They say Sudan is still destroying churches. And there is still fighting in Darfur. I spoke to Ryan Boyette, who runs a journalism outfit in the Nuba Mountains. And he says while bombings have stopped in the region, the Sudanese government is still flying warplanes overhead. He says to him, that signals a government getting ready to attack the rebels after the sanctions are lifted.
Of course, South Sudan’s foreign minister, Ibrahim Ghandour, has a very different view. He says his country is peaceful, and it’s making a sincere effort to work with the U.S. So now we wait. The State Department says Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will issue a decision on Wednesday.
SINGH: That’s NPR’s East Africa correspondent, Eyder Peralta. Eyder, thanks very much.
PERALTA: Thank you, Lakshmi.