The United States on Monday welcomed the official results of the referendum in southern Sudan, and announced that it will recognize an independent Southern Sudanese state. The Obama administration is moving to normalize relations with the Sudanese government in Khartoum in the wake of the overwhelming secession vote.
The White House announcement that the United States will recognize an independent Southern Sudan came as no surprise because the Obama administration strongly supported the referendum process and has already set up a diplomatic mission in the southern capital, Juba.
In a written statement, President Barack Obama congratulated the people of Southern Sudan for what he called a "successful and inspiring" referendum, and he said he is pleased to announce that the United States will formally recognize the new state when it is expected to receive its independence in July.
The President said the United States will work with Southern Sudan and the Khartoum government to ensure a peaceful transition to southern independence.
Mr. Obama said there is a "path" to normal relations with the United States for the Sudanese government - including an end to its designation by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism - if it keeps all its obligations under the country’s 2005 north-south peace accord.
In her own statement on the referendum, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she is "initiating the process" of withdrawing Sudan’s terrorism designation, which carries with it various U.S. sanctions.
State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said Sudan will be removed from the list, provided it meets the requirements under a 1979 act of Congress that set up the list and associated trade sanctions.
"Now that the referendum results are final and now that it’s clear that the government of Sudan has recognized those results, we will begin the process of removing Sudan from the state sponsor of terrorism list, with the obvious qualification that Sudan has to meet the criteria under law before that action could be taken. So we will begin the process, now that the referendum results are final," the spokesman said.
Sudan has been on the U.S. list since 1993, in part because it gave refuge in the early-1990s to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
In recent years, however, U.S. officials have credited Sudan with cooperation in combating terrorism. And the Obama administration is expected to certify as much to Congress as part of the delisting process.
Libya was taken off the list in 2006 as part of the normalization process that began when it renounced weapons of mass destruction and terrorism in 2003.
Still on the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism, along with Sudan, are Iran, Syria, North Korea and Cuba.
The United States has long been represented in Khartoum by a charge d’affaires as opposed to a full ambassador. It has also avoided direct contact with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir since his 2008 international indictment for war crimes in Darfur.
In a related development, State Department Spokesman Crowley dismissed as untrue a press report that the United States had agreed with other Western governments to give Mr. al-Bashir a one-year "reprieve" from war crimes prosecution to help consolidate north-south peace after the referendum.
The report late last week by the Financial Times newspaper said a tentative deal for the reprieve had been struck by U.S. and French diplomats on the sidelines of an African Union Summit in Addis Ababa last month.
But Crowley said the U.S. team in the Ethiopian capital, led by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, had no such discussion.