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Conflicting Priorities Complicate US Policy Toward Sudan

U.S. policy in Sudan is conflicted between ending the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and rewarding Khartoum for quietly being a partner in the global battle against terrorism, says a senior analyst at a global intelligence company.

The director of sub-Saharan Africa analysis at Stratfor, Mark Schroeder, says two policies in the Obama administration are at odds regarding U.S. policy towards Sudan.

"The United States has had to balance two bigger areas of concern: one, the humanitarian conflict in Darfur, and two, Sudanese cooperation in the war on terror," Schroeder said.

The special U.S. envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, testified before a Congressional hearing two weeks ago the United States would have to soon "unwind" sanctions against Sudan to ensure south Sudan would be viable for possible independence in 2011.

The statement was condemned by a number of Darfur advocacy groups in the United States, including an umbrella group for the Darfur diaspora living in America. The Darfur Leaders Network called for the Obama administration to reject any softening of its stance towards the Sudan government, led by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Gration has since clarified his testimony before Congress, saying in an interview late last week that his remarks had been misunderstood and that the United States is not considering lifting sanctions against Sudan.

According to Schroeder, a mobilized wing in Mr. Obama's Democratic Party considers the crisis in Darfur a key rallying point for justice against humanitarian abuses worldwide.

But Schroeder says Khartoum has been a useful behind-the-scenes ally in the global struggle against terrorist groups.

"Now there are other elements within the United States government that have had to cooperate with the Sudanese government since 9/11 in terms of the war on terror," Schroeder said. "And the Sudanese government has been a more background partner to help the United States gather intelligence on international jihadists fighting in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, and some of those jihadists that have come from Sudan and from the Horn of Africa region."

Sudan, which at one time served as the base for Osama bin Laden, remains on the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism.

The outgoing commander of the joint African Union and U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur has praised what he sees as a warming of ties between the United States and Sudan. He called for an end to the economic sanctions, saying they were an impediment to peace and development in the region.

Darfur rebel groups reject Khartoum control over the region. Many fear any easing of sanctions against Sudan would only empower the central government and strengthen Khartoum's position at the Darfur negotiation table.

Besides finding a resolution to the conflict in Darfur, U.S. envoy Gration has publicly stated that his other major priorities in Sudan are the peaceful implementation of the North-South peace agreement and an end to the hostilities between Sudan and neighboring Chad.