The Trump administration has decided to permanently lift some of the economic sanctions on Sudan, handing a victory to the country and its lobbyists.

The decision, which was widely expected, followed “a focused, 16-month diplomatic effort to make progress with Sudan,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement Friday night.

“The United States will continue efforts to improve bilateral relations with Sudan,” she said. “Any further normalization of ties will require continued progress by the Government of Sudan.”

Despite the sanctions relief, Sudan will remain on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, a three-country list that also includes Syria and Iran. The designation prohibits Sudan from being able to buy arms from the U.S. or receive American aid.

And the International Criminal Court has indicted Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, for alleged war crimes.

The Obama administration began easing some of the restrictions on Sudan earlier this year. Officials said the country was cooperating more fully with U.S. counterterrorism efforts, allowing in humanitarian groups and promising not to engage in arms sales with North Korea, Reuters reported.

Human rights groups, which largely support lifting sanctions if certain benchmarks are reached, said they are disappointed with the Trump administration’s decision.

“It sends the wrong message to lift these sanctions permanently when Sudan has made so little progress on human rights,” Andrea Prasow, deputy director of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.

Among the critics of the sanctions relief is Amnesty International, which cited alleged chemical attacks against civilians in Darfur last year.

The easing of sanctions is not the only victory for Sudan in recent weeks.

Sudan had previously been on President Trump’s list of countries whose citizens were banned from flying to the United States. When the White House unveiled a revised ban last month, Sudan was no longer on the list — the only country to be removed.

The country hired law and lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs for $40,000 per month to work on the sanctions issue and on an effort to “improve Sudan’s investment climate.” Because of the sanctions imposed on the country, American companies have not been able to invest in Sudan’s mineral-rich economy.

Sudan also has the law firm Cooke Robotham on retainer to provide legal and policy advice on a “proposed debt restructuring strategy” for the country and for seeking “U.S. government support for debt relief with respect to the Government of Sudan,” according to documents filed with the Justice Department. The contract comes with a $300,000 fixed fee.

The initial sanctions on Sudan date back to 1997, and spanned economic, trade and financial sectors, levied for providing safe haven to terrorists including Osama bin Laden. In 2004, the U.S. slapped Sudan with additional sanctions following violence and alleged human rights abuses in Darfur. The sanctions on individuals from that period remain in place, according to Reuters.

“Sudan has significant oil and gas resources that will present interesting business opportunities to U.S. energy companies,” said Michael Casey, a partner at Kirkland, in an emailed statement.

“The lifting of sanctions on Sudan will create new opportunities for U.S. companies, but various challenges remain as well. A number of individuals and companies within Sudan continue to be targeted by U.S. sanctions, the U.S. government still maintains restrictions on exporting U.S. products to Sudan, and Sudan suffers from endemic corruption,” he said. “It is also unclear if U.S. and European banks will be willing to process Sudan-related transactions.”

There is some doubt that the people of Sudan stand to benefit from an opening of the economy, should larger economic reforms not be made in the country.

Sudan has massive debts owed to foreign creditors — $51 billion, which represents 60 percent of its GDP, according to figures from the New York Times — and is battling rampant inflation. 

“There’s been a lot of excitement among the Sudanese middle classes, even for things like getting a cinema,” Magnus Taylor, a Sudan analyst at the International Crisis Group, told the Times.

The sanctions have not been effective, he said — a view expressed by the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, earlier this summer.

Rather than imposing more sanctions, or keeping existing ones in place, Princeton Lyman, a former U.S. special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, said the U.S. should increase its diplomatic efforts.

“It doesn’t work to say, ‘When you’ve completely changed, we’ll lift the sanctions.’ It’s not the way change comes about,” Lyman, who participated in an Atlantic Council report on the issue, told The Hill in July.

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