Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail capped a Washington visit Friday with talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He urged the Bush administration to lift sanctions against his government, given the north-south Sudanese peace accord and what he said is progress toward bringing peace to Darfur.
Sudan remains subject to layers of U.S. sanctions stemming mainly from its continuing presence on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Mr. Ismail says it is time for Washington to normalize relations and begin peeling back the sanctions, based on acknowledged Sudanese cooperation with the United States against terrorism, and what he said is progress on both the north-south and Darfur conflicts.
The Sudanese Foreign Minister spoke to reporters after a half-hour meeting with Secretary Rice. He had a much longer session Thursday with Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who is the administration's point-man on Sudan.
The Sudanese official said his government has made strides in every area of United States concern, especially on the two-decade north-south conflict, which is to come to an official end July 9 with the installation of a national unity government with the southern rebel movement, the SPLA.
"We are going to establish the new government with the SPLA next month. The situation in Darfur, the humanitarian situation, (and the) security situation is getting better. We are now engaged in political talks in Abuja. So we believe that these are the concerns of the United States. So in order to move forwards and continue, we want the United States to start lifting sanctions," said Mr. Ismail.
Mr. Ismail said the July 9 installation of the unity government, in which SPLA leader John Garang will be first vice president, will be an historic event, drawing leaders from around the world.
The State Department says Deputy Secretary Zoellick, who has visited Sudan twice in the last two months, will represent the United States provided that the peace accord remains on track.
Mr. Ismail said his government is committed to ending the conflict in Darfur, where the United States said last year a genocide campaign was being waged by Khartoum-backed Arab militiamen against African villagers seen as supporting local rebels.
He said Sudan is supporting the expansion of the African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur without hesitation and has accepted logistical help from NATO in the process.
He said he expects the force to double in size to 7,700 troops this summer and to reach 12,000 by year's end.
U.S. officials say they have high hopes for the north-south peace accord, under which the Islamic government in Khartoum and the southern rebels will share power and resources for a six-year interim period, leading to a vote on whether the southern region will become independent.
State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said Friday the Kenyan-mediated peace accord can be a model for settling the Darfur conflict as well as a regional dispute in eastern Sudan along the Eritrean border which has flared up in recent days. "You have a national unity government, you have regional autonomy, you have division of resources, you have demobilization, you have south-south dialogue, you have a mechanism to bring in parties and groups outside the process into the political process, into the governing process. And this agreement and its implementation, because implementation is key, can serve as a model, and an inspiration, and a springboard for addressing these other conflicts," he said.
In his talk with reporters, Ms. Ismail blamed Eritrea for the flare-up in violence in eastern Sudan, saying rebels had crossed into Sudan from that country to attack Sudanese troops.
He denied reports Sudan has used aircraft to bomb targets in the region this week.
Officials here say the United States has been active diplomatically trying to halt the fighting, talking to officials in the Eritrean capital Asmara as well as Khartoum, and also contacting the SPLA leader Mr. Garang, who has forces in the area.