The United States government said on Monday that it was encouraged by the release and reinstatement on Sunday of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok of Sudan, noting that it was just ‘a first step’. “We are encouraged that the November 21st agreement is an important first step to put a civilian-led democratic transition back on track. Specifically we’re encouraged by the release of Prime Minister Hamdok from house arrest and his reinstatement to office. But let me just underscore this is a first step. This is nothing more than that and we’ll be watching very closely,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters at a news briefing in Washington.
Price added, “Specifically, to build on this first step, we call on Sudanese leaders to implement the agreement and key transitional tasks that includes creating a transitional legislative council, judicial structures, electoral institutions, and a constitutional convention. We urge the immediate release of all other civilian leaders and all those detained in connection with the military takeover as is called for in this very agreement that was finalized on November 21st. We reiterate our call for the lifting of the state of emergency as well.
“Look, the resumption, the reinvigoration of Sudan’s civilian transition remains a top priority for us. We have been very engaged on this, supporting that process, working very closely with the international communities. We’ll continue to press on all of the relevant actors and stakeholders to work towards this goal and to ensure that the first step that was announced in recent hours is not the last step.
“To that end, I can relay that the Secretary had an opportunity today to speak to Prime Minister Hamdok, to speak to General Burhan, and that was essentially his message, that we must continue to see progress, we must continue to see Sudan move back down the democratic path, and that starts with the reinstitution of the prime minister, but it certainly doesn’t end there.”
Asked whether the U.S. assistance to Sudan will be provided again following the latest agreement, Price indicated that the United States will take action based on many steps beyond the first step that included the release and reinstatement of Hamdok.
“The U.S., of course, has suspended $700 million in economic assistance. Is that now – is there some talk about resuming that at this point?” a reporter asked Price.
“Well, this goes to the first point, that this is a first step; it’s not the last step. We’ll be watching very closely. We don’t have any announcements to make at this time regarding our assistance, any changes to our posture. But clearly those decisions will be predicated entirely on what happens in the coming hours, in the coming days, in the coming weeks.
The reporter countered, “so when you say “first step,” are you specifying, like, four or five steps before they can get the $700 million in assistance?”
Price responded, “We’re – look, what we are saying publicly – and obviously, we are communicating with the parties as well, including the Secretary today. As you know, Molly Phee was in Khartoum last week now where she had an opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Hamdok, where she had an opportunity to meet with military leaders, including General Burhan. But what we’re making clear is that there is a ways to go before this process is fully back on track. We are invested in this process precisely because the Sudanese people are invested in their democracy, in the democracy that they worked so hard to achieve in the first instance. And now they are very clearly taking to the streets peacefully to make clear that their aspirations for democracy, for a constitutional government – they are undiminished. And so we continue to stand with the Sudanese people as together we support that goal of a reinvigorated democratic transition in Sudan.”
Asked to comment on the latest developments on Ethiopia and whether U.S. Special Envoy Jeffrey Felman who is leading America’s diplomacy in the country was still there, Price gave an extensive answer.
“So as you alluded to, we are continuing to support the diplomacy that in the first instance is being led by President Obasanjo, the AU envoy to the region. We’ve done that in a number of ways. Special Envoy Feltman, as you know, has had an opportunity to travel to Ethiopia and the broader region several times in recent weeks. He just returned from Ethiopia over the weekend. He had productive meetings with the High Representative President Obasanjo. He also met with senior Ethiopian government officials, African Union representatives, and international partners to discuss opportunities that advance a negotiated and sustained – and sustainable cessation of hostilities to bring this conflict that has now raged for more than a year to a close,” he said.
“We have continued to call for an end to the fighting. We have continued to call for the parties to engage in diplomacy in furtherance of a cessation of hostilities just as we have reiterated the calls of the international community for an end to the human rights abuses and violations that we’ve seen, as we have also urged the provision of humanitarian access to those in Tigray, to those in northern Ethiopia.
“The other point that we have been consistent in saying is that our embassy as of early this month is on ordered departure status. We have reduced the size of our footprint there, but our embassy is still very much open, our USAID mission is still very much open and operating to support the people of Ethiopia, but in the case of our embassy to support those with U.S. citizenship who may still be in Ethiopia. The point we have made is that Americans should depart the country immediately using commercial options which remain readily available.
“Over any given 72-hour period there are dozens of commercial flights to international destinations, within Africa but also elsewhere, that Americans are able to avail themselves of, and we encourage them to do it because the security situation continues, of course, to be tenuous. Even as we have reduced the footprint of our embassy, we have actually increased the hours within our American Citizen Services section within the embassy to help Americans make those travel arrangements, to help place them on flights, and to facilitate the logistics involved in all of that. As we’ve made clear before, we will do everything from help them book a flight to pay for that flight with a repatriation loan should American citizens not be in a position to pay those upfront costs.
“Our commitment to the safety and security is a top priority for us, and that’s why we are working literally overtime to do all we can to ensure that Americans – to see to it that Americans take advantage of the many options to depart the country via commercial air.”