Background Briefing on Sudan Sanctions
MODERATOR: Thank you. Thanks, everyone, for joining us for the background call on the administration’s decision yesterday to extend the review period for the revocation of certain sanctions on Sudan. You may have seen the statement that was released yesterday, so we wanted to bring some folks in to discuss the decision in greater detail. We have [Senior Administration Official One]; also [Senior Administration Official Two] and [Senior Administration Official Three]. I’d like to add that the call will be embargoed until the end of the call. You can refer to the officials as senior administration officials who are involved in the Sudan assessment process.
With that, I will turn it over to [Senior Administration Official One] to get a little bit more into the details of today’s decision. And let me just add that [Senior Administration Official Two] has to drop off the call early, so we’ll get to [Senior Administration Official Two] after [Senior Administration Official One]. [Senior Administration Official One], thank you. Go right ahead.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Good morning, everybody. I just would like to take a very quick moment to set the frame of what the decision – that took place. Executive Order 13761, issued in January 13, provided for sanctions relief for Sudan with respect to certain sanctions if the Government of Sudan sustained positive actions that gave rise to this order. And basically, these actions, just to be clear so we’re all on the same page, included maintaining a cessation of hostilities in the conflict areas in Sudan, continuing improvement of humanitarian access throughout Sudan, and maintaining cooperation with the U.S. on both regional conflicts and the threat of counterterrorism in the context of regional conflicts. A key issue is countering the Lord’s Resistance Army.
So the administration recognizes Sudan has made significant progress in these areas over the last six months, but given that a new administration came in in January and looking at where we’ve gone and where we will go, the administration decided that it needed more time to review Sudan’s actions and to establish that the government has demonstrated sustained, positive actions across all the areas that are set out in the executive order. As a result, the President yesterday issued a new executive order that extended the review period for three months. The Government of Sudan, if it is assessed at the end of that review period to have sustained positive actions as we’ve been discussing, the United States will revoke the sanctions. But there was a feeling that the additional time was needed to ensure that, given the scope and gravity of this decision, we reached the proper outcome.
The administration is committed to sustaining this discussion as well as engaging with the Government of Sudan on other vital issues outside of the five-track arrangement, including intensifying our ongoing and fairly intense already dialogue on improving Sudan’s human rights and religious freedom record, and also to ensure that, like we are on track with that throughout the globe, committed to the full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea. And I’m sure that [Senior Administration Official Two] will have more to say on that if there’s questions.
A couple of other things I’d like to note: In that throughout the course of the extended review period, the OFAC license that was issued in January remains in effect, and what that does essentially is it authorizes U.S. persons to engage in transactions involving Sudan, authorizes imports and exports, and engage in transactions that involve property related to the Government of Sudan. So this general license allows these actions that had been prohibited under previous executive orders as it has for the last six months, and as we go forward – additional three months of the review period, this will stay in place.
One other thing I’d like to note before we go into questions is that the administration looked at all relevant and credible information in terms of where we’ve assessed where we’re going to date, and that this decision was reached through a senior-level process, interagency process, that took the views of the Department of State, the Treasury, the intelligence agencies, as well as USAID and others who have an interest and focus on these issues. But it was the President who made the final decision based on his – the recommendations of the senior levels of the interagency – interagency.
So I think with that I will stop and let any questions go to my colleagues who are also on the line [Senior Administration Officials Two and Three].
MODERATOR: Okay. [Senior Administration Official One], thank you so much. Go right ahead. Let’s take our first question, and if anyone – let me mention again: If anyone has a specific question for [Senior Administration Official Two], since she has to drop off the phone early, go right ahead with that as well.
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press * and then 1 on your telephone keypad. You’ll hear a tone indicating you’ve been placed in queue. To remove yourself from queue, simply press the # key. Once again, to ask your question, please press * and then 1 at this time. And one moment, please.
The first question is from Matina Stevis with The Wall Street Journal. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks very much for doing this. It’s much appreciated. You will have seen in the last few moments that the Sudanese president has issued a statement saying he is suspending the sort of relevant commission that was working with the U.S. civil servants and other authorities on this. It is the view of the Sudanese Government that they have no more to do and that this decision effectively is a moving of goalposts. How do you respond to that, and how concerned are you that even this small extension might lead to backtracking of some of the progress that you guys have said has been made over the last few months and, indeed, nearly two years?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I don’t want to characterize the Sudanese reaction right now because we’ve – we’re having still senior-level engagement on this issue as we speak and going forward. So I’m not going to comment on this report. We don’t know if it’s accurate, and since it’s, I think, a press report, we will wait until we have, actually, a full set of senior-level engagement and discussion back and forth.
We welcomed what Sudan has done to bring itself more in line with international standards and integrate its economy in the marketplace. We want to have a positive relationship going forward; we’ve made that clear throughout the process, and we hope that Sudan will continue. And again, the key focus, I think, for the Sudanese has been working to achieve the full revocation of sanctions. And if, at the end of the three months, which is a relatively short extension, and I think one where we can actually make some additional progress, the stated intent, as our statement indicates, is to lift the sanctions.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you.
OPERATOR: If there are additional questions, please press * and then 1. Once again, to ask additional questions, please press * and then 1. And one moment please.
And we’ll go to the line of Robbie Gramer with Foreign Policy. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks so much for doing this. I was wondering if you could comment on reports that came out a few months back on Sudan purchasing arms from North Korea. Have you talked at all with the Sudanese Government about clamping this down or stopping this, and have they assured you that would – they will?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. Basically, if you’ll notice that we do mention North Korea in the statement the department issued. The implementation of Security Council resolutions in North Korea, and especially efforts to stem North Korean missile proliferation and financing activities, is a top security priority for the President. He’s said this many times. I want to note – I want to turn this over to [Senior Administration Official Two] if she has any comment on this.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Sure. Hello, everybody. Again, I’m [Senior Administration Official Two], and as [Senior Administration Official One] has said, and I’ll reiterate, and as you’ve seen in our statement, the Trump administration has made it really clear that the number one security issue for them and for our new government is North Korea. And that is a global, top security issue.
So yes, we have made our position clear with the Sudanese Government, and even outside of the five-track plan and in our longer-term engagement, for a very long time, that they must abide by the UN Security Council resolutions with regards to North Korea. So we continue to say that; that has not been added to the five-track framework, but it has been a continual concern we have with the Sudanese Government, and we’ve expressed that all along.
MODERATOR: (Inaudible) add to that. (Inaudible.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I just wanted to add that we have been and we will continue to be talking about this issue. It is something that we are doing across the board with a range of countries. So again, I think that all our partners and – across the world, and all people – all the other countries that we’ve raised it with understand where this stands in our security priorities, and certainly the Sudanese do as well. And I think that we’ll stop there.
MODERATOR: Okay. Next question, please.
OPERATOR: The next question comes from the line of Kylie Atwood with CBS News. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hello. Thanks for doing this. I have a question on the special envoy for South Sudan and Sudan here at the State Department. Is that a position that’s vacant right now? And if so, does that vacancy have anything to do with prolonging this policy review in that there’s no one who is a voice at the table that could be kind of an additional person to have conducted the review? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: There is no special envoy for the moment, although [the] office is fully staffed and continues to work on these issues. What I can say is that basically, the appointment of a special envoy or a special representative for Sudan is under consideration by the administration as a part of State’s ongoing reorganizational design, and that’s really where we are right now. It would – I would not draw any other conclusions based on staffing right now.
MODERATOR: Okay. Next question, please.
OPERATOR: Next, the line of Matina Stevis, Wall Street Journal. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Sorry to use up my time, and then I hope other colleagues get to other questions. I just wanted to ask for your comments, since we have you here, on reports from expert analysts that have already been published that potentially, the decision was the outcome of lobbying both from human rights groups, by the likes of John Prendergast and former administration officials, as well as the so-called Christian right, which has historically been very active in lobbying for the isolation of Sudan and the split of South Sudan in the past. Do you guys have any comments on allegations that this – these influences and public statements are what’s really swayed you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I don’t want to speculate on any of the internal deliberations. What I can say is that we haven’t made a decision. We decided to – as an administration, that more time was needed to assess this issue.
As we note, there has been some significant progress made across the five tracks. On the question of humanitarian access, there’s been progress in our ability to get to different places on ensuring that the access of some additional materials has happened. But I’m not going to speculate on where we are and what we are – where we’re going on this other than to say that these five issues continue to be extremely important in terms of where we want to go. Humanitarian access has always been a real problem, and I think we’ve succeeded in reversing a number of longstanding impediments. The extended review period is going to let us do even more, and we want to make sure that our principle – which is unfettered humanitarian access in all contexts – is something that we could go forward with with the Government of Sudan, and that restrictions on travel and other issues are – that are inconsistent with the freedom of movement are addressed and overcome.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: This is [Senior Administration Official Two]. I would just add to the question, too, that this was a robust policy review process to determine that we just needed more time, that the new administration needed more time. Our principal – all principals were involved, and like [Senior Administration Official One] said, this is not a decision; it is, in fact, just having – giving a new administration a little bit more time. But we did have a lot of review go on and we’re still going to continue that process.
MODERATOR: Okay, everyone. Thanks so much for joining the call. Let me just go over this again, that the call is a background call with senior administration officials who are involved with the Sudan assessment process. The embargo from this call has now been lifted. Thank you, everyone, so much for joining us today and thanks for our speakers, [Senior Administration Official One], [Senior Administration Official Two], and also [Senior Administration Official Three]. Thank you.