WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States should look beyond the Darfur issue and quickly normalize ties with Sudan to build on progress from its successful secession referendum, Foreign Minister Ali Karti said on Wednesday.
“Normalization of relations should not be held hostage by Darfur,” Karti told a Washington think-tank audience before a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In their meeting, Clinton reaffirmed U.S. willingness to move toward normalizing relations but outlined several steps which must take place before this can happen, the State Department said.
Karti’s visit came amid significant warming of relations between Khartoum and Washington, which has praised Sudan for the successful January referendum on independence for the south which capped the 2005 peace deal that ended a long civil war between the two sides.
To encourage cooperation, the Obama administration has offered to relax sanctions on Khartoum and take steps to remove it from the U.S. official blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism, which it joined in 1993 amid concerns it harbored al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Full normalization of relations, including the exchange of ambassadors, could follow.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States could begin the legal process of dropping Sudan from the list in the next couple of weeks if northern and southern Sudanese leaders agree on how to work out several key issues unresolved by the January poll including citizenship, borders and division of oil revenues.
“We are poised to move ahead with the process of normalized relations but there are number of things that have to be done along the way,” he said.
An influential pressure group urged Washington to reject quick normalization, saying Khartoum’s record of continued violence in Darfur should not be rewarded.
“Khartoum’s actions in Darfur demand aggressive diplomatic pressure from United States government, not a move toward relaxation of sanctions,” the Save Darfur Coalition and Genocide Intervention Network said in a statement.
Karti said Khartoum had delivered on its promise to allow southern Sudan to vote for independence, and that was “high time” the United States put relations back on track.
He said Khartoum was already cooperating on Darfur, where the United Nations estimates some 300,000 people died in a humanitarian crisis following a government counter-insurgency campaign that Washington branded as genocide.
“Whenever there was a call for talks, the government was available. We are open for any talks. So the challenge and the obstacle lies in the other side,” he said, referring to factional splits among Darfuri rebel groups.
The U.S. envoy to the United Nations said on Wednesday that U.N. peacekeepers in Sudan were not responding aggressively enough to protect civilians and ensure humanitarian aid workers have access to needy people.
Karti said the United States and Sudan both stood to gain from normalized relations, noting cooperation on counter-terrorism as one benefit.
“Rather than moving the goals let us stick to the goals now and work together to get to those goals,” he .
The State Department’s Crowley said full normalization would depend both on resolving remaining tensions between north and south Sudan and on improvements in Darfur, which he called “of critical importance”.
The United States wants to see a final ceasefire deal for Darfur as well as more economic and development help for the region, he said.
But he said the legal troubles faced by Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and genocide in Darfur, would play no role in any final decision to normalize ties.
Reporting by Andrew Quinn, editing by Anthony Boadle