20-February-2020

American Acting Charge D’Affairs: I think the United States and Sudan have a common vision of what we want the relations to be

By: Aisha Braima

KHARTOUM (SUDANOW) - Anwar Akasha, the Sudan News Agency reporter, has recently conducted a lengthy interview with the man heading the American diplomatic mission in the Sudan, Benjamin Moeling – Chargé D’Affairs, a.i., U.S. Embassy Khartoum. Mr. Moeling is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service of the United States.
He arrived in Khartoum from Geneva, where he was the Counselor for Refugee, Migration, and Humanitarian affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Previously, Mr. Moeling served as the Director of the U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar and as the Deputy Chief of the Political Section at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Other postings include Vietnam, Haiti, Taiwan, and Washington D.C. Moeling is accompanied in Khartoum by his wife, Sandra Huang, an international consultant and expert in development and stabilization.
In this interview he spoke about US-Sudanese relations, terrorism list, economic embargo, sanctions, Saudi led coalition against the Houthis in Yemen, the recent administrative referendum in Darfur. He was generous and did not refrain from answering any question posed. Following is a full transcript of charge D’Affairs a a.i. interview with Sudan News Agency (SUNA) 04/11/2016

Q: How do you see the beginning and development of Sudanese-American relations?
A: Well, we have seen in recent years, that U.S.-Sudan relations have not been very good, and this has been something that we have been working on together very hard. Since I have been here, which is a little more than a year and half, we have seen significant improvements in the U.S.-Sudan diplomatic communication. Our engagement has been more frequent and higher level, our people to people engagement has been much more significant than it was in the past, and I think the United States and Sudan are beginning to come to some kind of agreements on future of Sudan, and how best to bring our relationship into the modern era. The important thing to remember about U.S.-Sudan relations is that I think the United States and Sudan have a common vision of what we want the relations to be. The United States wants to have a relationship with Sudan; we want to see Sudan be peaceful, stable, prosperous, integrated into the international community, and participating in solutions to regional and international conflicts and difficulties. I don’t think we have any disagreement about the results we want to get to, and it’s up to the diplomats to decide the best way to get there.
Q: Diplomatic sources say there were extensive meetings in Washington between Sudanese and U.S. officials to draw a roadmap for normalizing relations. Is that true, and how important is a roadmap?
A: The United States and Sudan need a path towards reconciliation and normalization. We have seen for many years the United States has sought certain basic conditions in order for us to be able to have a truly normal relationship. Since January 2015, when Presidential Advisor Ghandour went to the United States, we have seen an increased number of high level meetings between our diplomats, including our President who met with Foreign Minister Ghandour last summer.
Q: The recent Congressional delegation to Sudan wrote a report on sanctions; what can you say about this report?
A: You know sanctions are the questions that I get most frequently in Sudan, and sanctions are a symptom of the bad relations between the United States and Sudan and the conditions. To resolve the sanctions questions, we need to resolve the relationship questions, to resolve the relationship questions; we need to see the resolution of conflicts in Sudan. We have seen positive steps in this direction. We welcome the signature by Sudan of the AUHIP roadmap, and we think that, with a slight clarification about the inclusivity of the National Dialogue and the government’s commitment to implement the commitments of the 7+7, that the opposition also needs to sign this AUHIP roadmap.
Q: Is there any serious attempt from Washington to lift sanctions, or is it still too early to lift them?
A: The sanctions are the symptom and what we need to do is to work on U.S. and Sudan relations, and part of working on U.S.-Sudan relations is seeing Sudan achieve a resolution of its internal conflicts. Peace, political reconciliation, and humanitarian relief to the victims of conflicts have always been the most essential elements for a normalization of U.S.-Sudan relations.
Q: Why doesn’t the U.S. want to normalize relations, despite the secession of South Sudan, the peace agreement for Darfur, and Sudan’s cooperation regarding combating extremism?
A: Ultimately, as I described, the situation of U.S.-Sudan conflicts, or the difficulty in relations between the U.S. and Sudan, is fundamentally based on the problems of conflicts within Sudan’s borders. That has been true for many years now. This is why we are continually urging ceasefire in Darfur and the Two Areas, in the provisions of humanitarian assistance to all of the victims of the conflicts, and to a real political dialogue in Sudan that can resolve the internal conflicts in a peaceful manner and in a permanent way.
Q: What is the U.S. impression regarding the National Dialogue, especially as it approaches the end?
A: The way we understand the National Dialogue is that it is a process that been extended multiple times, and they have told me in various conversations that participation in National Dialogue is still open, in fact they used the term with me, “even the doors and the windows are open” for groups to participate in the National Dialogue. We have long encouraged a meaningful, comprehensive, transparent political process in order to resolve the problems of Sudan, and we encourage all sides to participate in such a process.
Q: How do you evaluate Darfur referendum since it was part of DDPD?
A: Darfur still has significant issues -- there are more than 1.5 million Darfuri refugees and displaced people, there are still active ongoing conflicts and warfare in Jebel Mara, there are incidents between tribes and by bandit groups and by militias in different parts of Darfur that we read about frequently. Darfur still has signification problems, and to resolve those problems, the parties to the conflict need to negotiate with each other directly. We are concerned that this referendum fails do that. The participants in this referendum will not include important constituencies, such as Darfuris who are not in Darfur at the moment, such as IDPs who have not adequately registered, and Darfuris who cannot get to polling places because conditions and security are not going to let them go. With this in mind, we think the current referendum should not happen at this time and … be postponed.
Q: Why did former President Clinton bomb the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory, alleging it produced chemical weapons, despite CIA reports that it wasn’t true?
A: You know that happened a long time ago, before I came here. I would prefer to look at the future of Sudan-U.S. relations, about which I’m very optimistic. The signature of the Government of Sudan to the AUHIP roadmap indicates that the Government of Sudan is interested in political settlement to Sudan’s internal conflicts, and we have urged the opposition parties to also sign the roadmap. We hope there would be a ceasefire and humanitarian access to the victims of the conflict, and a meaningful and inclusive and comprehensive political dialogue that leads Sudan to a permanent peaceful future. That’s going to allow the United States and Sudan to have a normal relationship and to really take advantage of benefit of that relationship for both countries’ populations.
Q: Why does the U.S. still list Sudan on the State Sponsors of Terrorism List?
A: The United States has been watching positive developments in Sudan’s efforts to counter terrorism, and we would like to see more of that. The State Sponsor of Terrorism List, along with sanctions, is part of our negative bilateral relationship; we would hope to see ultimate a resolution of all of those issues.
Q: You have recently visited Qadarif state, and several parts of the country, tell us about your impressions and purpose of these trips?
A: The main purpose of our travel in Sudan is so that we can learn more about this country. Part of my job is to represent the United States and communicate the positions and policies of the United States to the government of Sudan; another part of my job is to communicate the truth about Sudan back to the United States. That’s very difficult to do from inside Khartoum. Many people in the United States have negative opinions and impressions of Sudan. By traveling outside Khartoum, I have the chance to correct those misimpressions. For example, many people in the United States think that Sudanese people do not like Americans. I can report back to them based on my reception in Darfur, in Sennar State, in other parts of Sudan that people are very warm and very welcoming and want to have better relations with the United States. I have also had a chance to meet many Sufi clerics, and to experience Sufi ceremonies, to meet with Congregations, I can report that Islam in Sudan is very tolerant, is very moderate, and it does not support extremism.
Q: Many Sudanese are barred from U.S. technology and education opportunities due to sanctions, Sudanese people suffer from sanctions, not the government, what is your comment?
A: Technology and education are not subject to sanctions. We know that there are problems people have had in accessing some technologies and education resources, but those have to do more with financial transactions than they do with U.S. law. The purpose, the specific intention of the sanctions, is to exempt those activities from sanctions. But individual companies make their own business decisions, how they are going to do business with Sudan, and that sometimes has the effect of blocking things. We work with those companies to make sure they understand that these activities are legal and that Sudanese people can participate in without violating sanctions.
Q: Several European countries tried to ban Sudanese gold exports; this is a vital section for more than 5 million Sudanese. Do you think that a ban on gold would not affect local miners?
A: The issue of gold has come up a couple of times in Sudan because gold is a resource produced in areas of conflicts in Sudan. The UN Security Council recently debated this issue and ultimately issued a resolution that did not ban gold. The United States voted in favor of that resolution.
Q: Sudan is one of the countries participating in the Saudi-led ‘Decisive Storm,’ with the blessing of the United States. How do you see Sudan’s participation in the alliance?
A: We have seen Sudan’s cooperation internationally in recent years, and it does seem to be positive. We would encourage Sudan to continue cooperating with other states, including Saudi Arabia, on efforts to bring peace and stability and resolve international and regional conflicts.
Q: The U.S. was one of the main supporters of South Sudan’s secession, but this caused internal conflict, violence, and death. Does the U.S. intend to repeat the same scenario in (Darfur)?
A: Darfur is part of Sudan; U.S. objectives in Darfur have been to ensure peace, stability, political rights, and a good life for the people of Darfur, just like any other Sudanese. The civil war in South Sudan is a tragedy; it is affecting millions of people. The United States has been very closely involved in efforts to achieve peace between the warring parties in South Sudan, and is now working as hard they can to ensure the implementation of the peace agreement between them.
Q: The U.S. sent several high level delegates on Darfur and the Two Areas, where are those envoys now?
A: Peace in those areas remains a high priority for the United States. Fundamentally, there is no military solution to the conflicts in Sudan. We have said this to the Government of Sudan a thousand times; we have said it to the armed opposition a thousand times. We expect all parties to the conflict in Sudan to come to the negotiating table, to negotiate in good faith and to achieve a political solution to their problems. The continued military conflict only harms the people of Sudan. Generations of Sudanese children are affected by this conflict; they should be going to school and helping to build the country, instead of going into combat and fighting against each other. All of the senior U.S. officials who deal with Sudan have focused on these issues.
Q: Diplomats and foreigners in Khartoum are safely going about and walking their dogs despite the listing of Sudan on the terrorism list, what do you say about that?
A: The issue of State Sponsor of Terrorism List is not necessarily the same as the issue of whether or not there are terrorist threats within the country. We are always focused on these issues, both public and private, relating to terrorism, and we watch developments in the region and in Sudan very closely.
Q: Where do you see U.S.-Sudan relations heading?
A: I’m an optimist about U.S.-Sudan relations. I have a vision of a close U.S.-Sudan partnership in the future, with Sudan as a peaceful, prosperous, stable country, where the population, all of the people of Sudan, participate in the political process, and where Sudan and the United States work together to help resolve regional conflicts and regional problems. I also see Sudan participating internationally in global issues, in the United Nations, international, economic, and political institutions. I see that future for the United States and Sudan. We can work so well together if we can get past what divides us today.
Q: We see exemptions on Gum Arabic and software, for U.S. interests, what is your comment on that?
A: I would say Gum Arabic is a terrific example of when the United States and Sudan have cooperated economically for the benefit of both of our people. Thousands of jobs and millions of dollars have come to Sudan because of Sudan’s Gum Arabic export to Europe and other countries. Gum Arabic is only one dimension of Sudan’s agriculture which is exempt from sanctions. Sudan has purchased agricultural equipment and inputs, including thousands of American cows, for production inside Sudan. This is one positive aspect of our bilateral economic cooperation that shows us what it could be in the future.
Q: Sudan is hosting large number of Syrians and South Sudanese, in that context the EU gave Sudan $100 million, what is your comment?
A: Thank you for raising that question, in my opinion Sudan does not receive enough recognition for the welcome and refuge that it has provided to refugees from countries in conflict around Sudan. Sudan hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees from South Sudan, Syria, Chad, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. This is clearly a reflection of the national character. The United States supports that and provides as much as 300 million dollars per year for humanitarian assistance in Sudan. Tens of millions of that money goes to help Sudan provide for those refugees who are inside Sudan.
Q: Is there any effort from the United States to urge rebel movements refusing to sign AUHIP Roadmap?
A: The United States has welcomed Sudan’s decision to sign the AUHIP roadmap, and we have also encouraged Sudan to make it clear that the National Dialogue is open to all parties who want to participate. We have also suggested that the Sudanese government clarifies that any agreement the 7+7 might make with the armed groups about their entry to the National Dialogue would be implemented by the government. With that in mind, we have also told the opposition and the armed groups that we expect them to also sign the AUHIP roadmap. The United States respects and supports the AUHIP process and believes this kind of political dialogue is the only alternative. We do not believe there is a military solution to Sudan’s conflicts, and we would like all parties to the conflict to cease fire and stop the fighting.
Q: Today, casting votes in Darfur referendum began; do you support one region or several states?
A: That is a decision that the people of Darfur need to make, not the United States. But we do not think the time is right for this referendum. The issues of conflict, violence, insecurity, and instability in Darfur can only be achieved; can only be resolved through direct communication and negotiation between the parties to the conflict. We think that the current referendum in Darfur, which will not include important part of the Darfur population, and so, we think the referendum itself might actually make the negotiation process more difficult.
Q: Do you have any final thoughts?
A: I hope the people of Sudan recognize the amount of progress that we have been able to make in the last year and half. The increase in people to people relationships, the ability of Sufi clerics and native administration leaders to visit the United States and bring Sudan’s message directly to the American people. The millions of people that they are communicating with back in Sudan create a better environment for the political negotiations between the United States and Sudan. The ceasefire we have seen that started in September of 2015 was not perfect, but it did result in a period of time from September until March that was the most peaceful and least violent that we have seen in years. It shows us that ceasefires are possible in Sudan, and this is why we hope that the ceasefire is put in place again. The National Dialogue process indicates that there is political dialogue happening in Sudan, and we want to see that be even more inclusive, even more transparent, so the people of Sudan can enjoy permanent political participation. These are positive developments that suggest the future for Sudan can be bright, and when that happens, the United States looks forward to being a great partner of the nation of Sudan.

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Sudanow is the longest serving English speaking magazine in the Sudan. It is chartarized by its high quality professional journalism, focusing on political, social, economic, cultural and sport developments in the Sudan. Sudanow provides in depth analysis of these developments by academia, highly ...

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