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US Ready for Sudan Normalization Steps After Referendum

The United States said Wednesday that it is willing to begin steps to normalize relations with Sudan because of the Khartoum government’s support for the southern Sudan independence vote. Sudanese Foreign Minister Ahmen Ali Karti met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Obama administration says that after the results of the referendum are finalized, likely within two weeks, it will be ready to move ahead on steps to normalize relations with Khartoum.

The United States committed late last year to upgrade the relationship, dependent on the Khartoum government’s cooperation on the south Sudan vote, which was held peacefully earlier this month.

With well over 90 percent of south Sudanese reportedly voting for independence, certification of the outcome is considered just a formality.

In comments before her meeting with Sudanese Foreign Minister Karti, Secretary of State Clinton stressed U.S. satisfaction with Sudan’s cooperation on the referendum, a key element of the 2005 north-south Sudan peace accord. "The United States and many other nations were encouraged by the peaceful execution of the referendum in the South. And we hope to continue working with the government in Khartoum on the remaining issues, which are many, in order to fully implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to finally resolve the status of Abyei and citizenship issues. We are still very focused on the ongoing problems in Darfur. So we have a full agenda of issues to discuss," he said.

Partly because it gave refuge to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden during the late-1980s, Sudan is among countries listed by the State Department as a sponsor of terrorism and is subject to U.S. sanctions.

However, U.S. officials in recent years have credited Sudan with active cooperation in combating terrorism.

State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters that removing Sudan from the terrorism list will begin after the referendum results are finalized. "We have laid out a road map for normalization of relations with Sudan. These criteria were laid out late last year. We reiterated both in a number of meetings the foreign minister [Karti] has had in Washington, including the meeting with the Secretary, that with the formal acceptance of the results of the referendum, we are prepared to move ahead with the process of rescinding Sudan from the state sponsor of terrorism list," he said.

To remove Sudan from the list, the administration must certify to Congress that Sudan has not given support to terrorist groups for six months and has committed not to do so in the future.

Libya was removed from the list in 2006 as part of a normalization process that began when the country renounced weapons of mass destruction three years earlier.

Officials here are not predicting when the U.S. embassy in Khartoum, now run by a charge d’affaires, might be upgraded to the ambassadorial level.

They say there are several referendum-related issues still be resolved, including whether the oil-rich Abiyeh region will be part of the south and how north-south Sudanese relations are to be structured.

Spokesman Crowley said the situation in the western region of Darfur remains of "critical importance" to the United States and that before normalization, U.S. officials want to see a formal cease-fire and efforts to uplift the economy.