For nearly a decade, the United States has labeled Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism. In 1998, the United States launched missile strikes against Khartoum for its alleged ties with Osama bin Laden, who was blamed for the deadly bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Khartoum has recently stepped up cooperation with Washington in the fight against terrorism.
The United States is welcoming the Sudanese government's initial steps to battle terrorism, but U.S. officials clearly believe Khartoum needs to do more. Washington is pressing Sudan to expel all terrorist groups from the country.
Secretary of State Colin Powell says he has no illusions about the Khartoum government - despite its recent cooperation. He testified about the issue before the House of Representatives International Relations Committee last month. "With respect to Sudan, we are still holding them on account for terrorist activities and terrorist offices that are still located in Khartoum," he said. "But they have done quite a bit in the last four or five months with respect to removing these organizations from the Sudan, and also cooperating with us in intelligence and law enforcement activities."
Mr. Powell said the United States has not suddenly lost sight of the nature of the Khartoum government, its terrorist activities, and in the brutal civil war it has been prosecuting in southern Sudan.
A U.S. Defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the terror presence in Sudan has generally declined since Osama bin Laden left the country in 1996. However, the official said some Egyptian and Palestinian terrorist groups remain in Sudan and that the country could become a haven for members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network fleeing Afghanistan.
However, the Pentagon official said that in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States, Khartoum has voiced opposition to terrorism, arrested a small number of extremists, and increased anti-terror cooperation with the United States. The official said Sudan is clearly interested in being removed from the U.S.list of state sponsors of terrorism.
In an interview with VOA, Sudan's Ambassador to the United States, Khidir Haroun Ahmed, said he was horrified by the September 11 attacks and that he and his government condemn terrorism. Mr. Ahmed said his government actually began cooperating with the United States in fighting terrorism in May 2000 and had offered to help years before, but was rebuffed by Washington. The Sudanese Ambassador dismissed the possibility that Osama bin Laden or al-Qaida members in Afghanistan could flee to Sudan. "Since September 11, our government has been guarding all our seaports, our airports, our neighboring ports [borders] with neighboring countries," he said. "There was quite clear instructions that nobody should sneak into the country. So I would say it would be impossible for any of these people to sneak again in my country. There is no way. I would say how could they get all the way from Afghanistan to our country, which is not on the Indian Ocean or even close to it?"
Ambassador Ahmed also discounted reports of other terrorist groups being present in Sudan, saying he finds these reports very strange. He said he does not fear a U.S. attack on his country, if the decision on whether to launch such military action is based on concrete evidence. "There's always a possibility of aggression, flagrant aggression against a small country like Sudan, but anything that is based on a rational decision, on concrete evidence that would justify such action is 100 percent not there," he said.
The Sudanese Ambassador said his country has always felt its inclusion on the U.S.list of state sponsors of terrorism was unjustified and that the 1998 U.S.attack on Sudan was a faulty decision. He said the pharmaceutical plant bombed in the attack was not a legitimate target and had no links to Osama bin Laden.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Sudan, Donald Petterson, told VOA that his understanding is that Sudan has increased its anti-terror cooperation with the United States, but not yet to the extent that Washington wants. Mr. Petterson the author of the book "Inside Sudan" explained why he thinks Sudan is being more helpful. "It's a very pragmatic response," said Donald Peterson. "They want better relations with the United States, and if they were not to cooperate in the U.S.effort to conduct the war on terrorism, they certainly would not have the chance of getting better relations. In fact, relations would get worse."
Former Ambassador Petterson said he does not think the United States will attack Sudan, as it did in 1998. He said Khartoum seems to have a better frame of mind toward the United States and the West. Mr. Petterson said Sudan's leaders remain committed Islamists, but he said recent signs have been encouraging regarding U.S.- Sudanese relations.
Despite these signs, members of the U.S. Congress who are active in African issues remain ardent opponents of the Sudanese government. Democratic Congressman Donald Payne - a member of the Congressional Black Caucus recently said Washington appears to be easing its opposition to what he called the horrible Khartoum government because of its anti-terror cooperation. Congressman Frank Wolf, a long-time critic of Khartoum, said the Sudanese government continues to operate terrorist training camps, which he said are funded by Sudan's oil industry. The Republican from Virginia did not provide information about the sources for his allegations.