WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration delayed its decision Tuesday on whether to permanently lift sanctions on Sudan, giving itself three more months to determine whether the African country's government has made enough progress after decades of isolation, war and abuses.
Just before leaving office in January, former President Barack Obama issued an executive order lifting decades-old Sudan sanctions on a probationary basis. Temporary sanctions relief took effect immediately, and was to become permanent on Wednesday unless the Trump administration acted to stop it.
President Donald Trump, in a new executive order issued Tuesday, moved that deadline back by three months, while keeping the temporary sanctions relief in place in the meantime. That means that the Sudan sanctions will permanently expire on October 13 unless the administration acts to snap them back into place.
The Obama administration justifying lifting the sanctions by citing improved counterterrorism efforts and other progress in Sudan. But human rights activists have said the sanctions should stay in place. And several dozen U.S. lawmakers had urged Trump to delay a final decision by a full year, arguing that the Trump administration didn't yet have sufficient staff in place to fully evaluate whether the sanctions merited being removed.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert credited Sudan with making progress in improving humanitarian access, cooperating with the U.S. on counter-terrorism and preserving a cease-fire in conflict areas. But she said the administration needed more time to review the situation and determine whether it was appropriate to lift the sanctions.
"We remain deeply committed to engagement with the GOS and working toward further progress," Nauert said, using an acronym for the Government of Sudan.
Sudan has been under U.S. financial sanctions since the 1990s, when it was briefly home to Osama Bin Laden and accused of sponsoring terrorism.
Rights advocates and opposition groups have said lifting the sanctions would strengthen President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide charges linked to the Darfur conflict, and do much to bring his government back into the international despite its past abuses.
The U.S. has worked to isolate Sudan since the military coup that brought al-Bashir to power in 1989, and even if Trump lets the sanctions expire in October, other sanctions targeting him and some of his inner circle will remain in place regardless.
Ahead of the decision, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said that lifting the sanctions permanently is "a right of Sudan, which has fulfilled all its commitments."
Associated Press writer Brian Rohan in Cairo contributed to this report.