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Sudanese Government Threatens to Close US Embassy in Khartoum

The Sudanese government says it will close the U.S. embassy in Khartoum or take other measures against U.S. diplomatic interests unless it is allowed to open up a bank account in Washington. But some analysts believe the Sudanese government is motivated by more than just the banking issue.

The Sudanese government has set October 31 as the deadline. It threatened to take unspecified actions against the U.S. embassy in Khartoum after that date if the U.S. government fails to resolve a long-running banking issue in Washington.

The Sudanese embassy in Washington has been without a bank account ever since Riggs Bank closed its embassy banking division in August, following a money laundering investigation. Press reports quote Sudanese foreign minister Mustafa Osman Ismail as saying banking arrangements for diplomatic missions are the host country's responsibility, and that the U.S. government has failed to sort out Sudan's banking situation.

Mr. Ismail was quoted by the news agency Reuters as saying, "there is no way for the U.S. embassy to continue here also."

The spokesman for Sudan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mohamed Ahmed Abdel Ghaffar, told VOA that the Sudanese government was, in his words, "going to reciprocate by the end of the month."

Mr. Ghaffar denied that the Sudanese government planned to close the U.S. embassy, but would not specify the reprisals his government was intending to take, saying that they would likely be of a "financial and administrative" nature.

"Me myself I don't know what are the options,'" he said. "But, surely, there is something to be done by our government if the situation of our embassy continues without resolving. Those options are not disclosed and they are not going to be disclosed unless the right moment or the opportune moment is there."

The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum declined to comment on Sudan's threat.

But analysts question whether the reprisals against the U.S. embassy in Khartoum are motivated merely by the banking issue.

Relations between Sudan and the United States have become strained in recent months. In particular, the Sudanese government has resented U.S.-led efforts to name the long-running conflict in the Darfur region a "genocide" and calls by the United States and others to impose sanctions against the government for failing to bring the conflict under control.

The head of the Nairobi-based Security Research and Information Centre, Jan Kamenju, said the Sudanese government's threats against the U.S. embassy are a way for it to save face and to divert attention away from the Darfur violence.

"Probably [the] Khartoum government is trying to buy more time for the problem in Darfur, because, to me, they have never been determined to resolve the conflict in Darfur," said Mr. Kamenju. "So what they might be doing is buying more time, extending debate at [the] international level and in the meantime the atrocities are still going on. But they definitely will flex their muscles if they can."

Mr. Kamenju said he does not think the Sudanese government will follow up on its threats, because it would not want to risk isolating itself further and because it is not just the United States that is pressuring the Sudanese government over Darfur.