The October 12 deadline could be yet another missed chance to scrap the two decades long US sanctions on Sudan unless both Khartoum and Washington change the way they operate.
A closer look at what happened last week shows clearly what US Foreign Policy magazine called “a Disorganized White House” is mainly to blame for the delay partly because of its lack of personnel. That view was endorsed by the London magazine, the Economist.
Of some 1,100 new appointments the incoming Trump administration should be making, only 111 were picked up to last month. Those vacant positions include assistant secretary of state for African affairs and a counterpart at the National Security Council. These two are fundamental posts in devising policies, monitoring them and ensure their implementation.
The unprecedented slow move to fill the government machinery, which is entrusted with the task of carrying out the elected President’s program could be attributed to a number of reasons. There is first the chaotic and slow way the transition was carried out including inability to provide candidates with reasonable background checks to be pushed to replace the outgoing staff. Then there is the loyalty factor, where Trump is said to have rejected some candidates like Elliot Abrahams, who was tipped to take the deputy secretary of state position, but Trump declined to endorse him because he was critical of Trump during the campaign. That move have sent a negative signal to many potential candidates who opted to stay out of this fray.
The result of all this is that many departments are run by acting staff, who are not sure about their future and more important not sure about the administration policy towards many issuers, including Sudan. And because of this lack of policy and direction the state department ceased to hold daily press briefings to reporters.
Following a futile trip to mediate in the Gulf crisis last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told accompanying reporters about his experience in the government so far. “It’s largely not a highly disciplined organization, decision making is fragmented, and sometimes people don’t want to take decisions, coordination is difficult through the interagency,” adding that, “we have a president that does not come from political world either.”
Then there is the erratic nature of Trump personality and the conflicting signals he sends through his tweets that undermine efforts of his secretaries as has been demonstrated in the way the Gulf crisis has been handled so far.
Will things change in the coming three months and the administration will have proper staff in place, who are able to devise a policy, monitoring its implementation and a harmonious administration that speaks with one voice? It is hard to tell, though chances don’t augur well for such a possibility. After all Sudan is not a priority issue.
On Sudan side there are two worrying aspects. The first is the growing wrong impression that Trump will not be waiting for a report from the relevant departments to make his decision on October 12. In fact his executive order cancels section 11 of the previous order that asks state and other departments to,
“provide to the President recommendations on appropriate US Government response.” But it still maintains section 10 that calls on state, treasury, director of national intelligence, and administrator of the US Aid, in addition to NGOs to provide report on whether Sudan government is carrying out its pledges on the five designated areas.
However, the State department briefing to reporters added three new issues: human rights, religious freedom and ties with North Korea. Clearly those were added unilaterally by Washington and without any consultation with Khartoum as has been the case with the five tracks.
And that is where it is time for more engagement with Washington and not to dissolve the committee entrusted with this issue and suspend its contacts for the three months period.
By reducing contacts merely to the conventional bilateral level, Sudan risks leaving the playground for other lobbyists and activists to fill the vacuum, further their agendas and ensure that added strings are well attached in the forthcoming review.
Instead of waiting for Godot this could be an opportunity to make a breakthrough in issues of war and peace in the country. After all this issue is on the top of the new government programs and it is time to move on. Solutions are already there. All they need is a political will.
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