WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is preparing to lift decades-old 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 President Barack Obama temporarily eased penalties that had been in place for 20 years 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, which is opposed by some human rights advocates, will 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 - which carries a ban on weapons sales and restrictions on U.S. aid.
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 official said.
U.S. officials also made clear in July their concern about Sudan's suspected ties to North Korea. The planned sanctions relief suggests that Khartoum has provided assurances it will abide by international sanctions against North Korea over its missile and nuclear programs, as Washington had urged.
The White House declined comment. There was no immediate comment from the State Department.
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.”
Rights groups raised concerns that it would be premature to remove sanctions.
"It’s a serious mistake for these sanctions to be lifted permanently when Sudan has made no progress on human rights," said Andrea Prasow, deputy director of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch. "A government that continues to indiscriminately bomb its own population and imprison human rights activists shouldn’t be rewarded."
Speaking before word of the U.S. decision, Al-Buraq al-Nazir al-Warraq, executive manager of the Sudanese Observatory for Human Rights, a group suspended by the government, said taking away sanctions could "pave the way" for further rights abuse by Sudan's government.
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.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool)