By Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is preparing to lift longstanding economic sanctions against Sudan, citing improvement on human rights and progress on counter-terrorism, a U.S. official said on Thursday.
President Donald Trump's administration is expected to announce its decision as early as Friday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Shortly before leaving office, former U.S. President Barack Obama temporarily eased penalties that had been in place for two decades against the African nation. In July, the Trump administration postponed for three months a decision on whether to remove the sanctions completely, setting up an Oct. 12 deadline.
Lifting the sanctions would suspend a trade embargo, unfreeze assets and remove financial restrictions that have hobbled the Sudanese economy.
It will also mark a major turnaround for the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who once played host to Osama bin Laden and is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of orchestrating genocide in Darfur.
Sudan will remain, for now, on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, alongside Iran and Syria.
But the sanctions decision reflects a U.S. assessment that Sudan has made progress in meeting Washington’s demands, including cooperation on counter-terrorism, working to resolve internal conflicts and allowing more humanitarian aid into Darfur and other rebellious border areas.
The White House declined comment. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sudan's State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hamed Momtaz told Reuters on Wednesday in Khartoum: "Sudan has fulfilled all the necessary conditions relating to the roadmap, and the U.S. administration is a witness to that and therefore we expect the sanctions to be lifted.”
Some rights groups have raised concerns, saying the lifting of sanctions could lead to further abuses.
"We're afraid lifting the sanctions could pave way for the government to ... violate rights," Al-Buraq al-Nazir al-Warraq, the executive manager of the Sudanese Observatory for Human Rights, a group suspended by the government, said before word of the Trump administration's decision.
The United States first imposed sanctions on Sudan in 1997, including a trade embargo and blocking the government's assets, for human rights violations and terrorism concerns.
The United States layered on more sanctions in 2006 for what it said was complicity in the violence in Sudan's Darfur region.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)