President Clinton slapped wide-ranging economic sanctions on the hard-line Islamic government of Sudan yesterday and ordered the seizure of Sudanese government assets in the United States.
In an executive order signed late Monday, the president banned all U.S. investment in Sudan and most bilateral trade. Senior officials said the president acted after concluding that earlier efforts to curb what Washington calls Sudan's support for international terrorism and its human rights abuses had failed.
His action puts Sudan in the same category as Iran, Burma and Cuba as countries with which the United States refuses to do business even though other nations, including U.S. allies, continue normal trade.
Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said the president acted against Sudan "because of its continued sponsorship of international terror, its effort to destabilize neighboring countries and its abysmal record on human rights, including religious persecution."
As with Burma, the president stopped short of breaking diplomatic relations with Sudan. The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum is nominally open, although all resident U.S. diplomatic personnel were removed last year for what officials said were security reasons.
State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said yesterday that no decision has been made about sending the diplomats back. The State Department announced last month that they would soon return, but later retracted the announcement.
U.S. bilateral trade with Sudan is minimal -- about $70 million a year, Rubin estimated -- but Sudan is the major world supplier of gum arabic, an extract of acacia tree used in a wide variety of consumer products, including candy, fruit drinks, cosmetics and inks.
With Congress considering two bills that would impose a trade ban similar to the one Clinton ordered, major trade associations have been lobbying hard against any cutoff of the supply of gum arabic, for which there is no artificial substitute.
State Department officials said they are aware of the gum arabic concern and said they would consider applications licenses to import the substance despite the trade ban, as Clinton's order allows. Gum arabic accounts for about $9 million of Sudan's $20 million in annual exports to the United States, according to industry estimates.
With the sanctions, the Clinton administration essentially gave up on efforts to improve relations with Sudan, a country three times the size of Texas. The government of Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan Bashir, dominated by Arabic-speaking Muslims, is engaged in a long-running war against non-Arab Christians and animists in the country's south, a campaign described by U.S. officials as intended to impose Islam on the southerners.
A senior official said yesterday that Sudan remains a "refuge, training ground and haven" for international terrorist groups, including Iranians.
Under Clinton's order, Albright said, "humanitarian, diplomatic and journalistic activities will continue. . . . I hope that the president's action will contribute to a fundamental change of policy and behavior on the part of the Sudanese government."
Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R-Mo.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa and a frequent critic of the administration, hailed the sanctions decision, calling it "a welcome change in U.S. policy toward this terrorist state, which is engaged the most reprehensible behavior." "Susan Rice, the new assistant secretary of state for Africa, is to be congratulated for her leadership in this area," he said in a statement.