The Bush administration said Wednesday it would like to remove Sudan from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism but that it will require more action by the Khartoum government. The comments followed a meeting between Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail.
The half-hour meeting here was a rare example of high-level contact between the two governments, whose ties have been limited because of Sudan's continued presence on the U.S. terrorism list.
But the relationship is improving, propelled by what officials here say has been growing cooperation on the counter-terrorism front and in particular against the al-Qaida organization of Osama bin Laden, who lived in Sudan in the mid-1990s.
At a State Department briefing, spokesman Richard Boucher said Secretary Powell and Mr. Ismail discussed what additional steps Sudan might take to be removed from the list, and thus spare the Khartoum government a number U.S. economic penalties.
Mr. Boucher said further efforts are required, but he said the United States recognizes that considerable progress has already been made.
"I think it's safe to say that Sudan is not the kind of haven for terrorists that it used to be, and has been quite cooperative in many ways in terms of the work we've been able to do with them since 9-11 [Sept 11, 2001 U.S. terrorist attacks]," he said. "And so I think it's important to keep that progress going, and to look at a high-level between the Secretary and the foreign minister as to how we can keep that progress going."
The spokesman gave no details of what action the United States might be seeking from Sudan. But a senior official said the administration wanted the Khartoum government to shut down operations in that country of extremist groups, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
In addition to terrorism, Mr. Boucher said the talks here covered the negotiations, being mediated by Kenya, to settle Sudan's two-decade-old civil conflict.
Mr. Ismail told reporters after meeting Mr. Powell that his government and southern rebels hope to sign a peace agreement as quickly as possible, perhaps next month.
Spokesman Boucher downplayed the June target as a deadline.
But he said the United States wants to do everything it can, as soon as it can, to help complete the Sudanese peace process, which he said has already brought major improvements in humanitarian conditions in contested parts of the country including the Nuba Mountains region.