September 27, 2023

Background Press Call on Accountability for the Ongoing Violence in Sudan

Background Press Call on Accountability for the Ongoing Violence in Sudan

Via Teleconference

11:04 A.M. EDT
 
MODERATOR:  Good morning, everyone.  Thanks for joining the call.  This call will be on background, attributable to a “senior administration official.”  For your awareness, not for reporting, on the line is [senior administration official].  The contents of this call will be embargoed until the end of the call. 
 
And, with that, I’ll hand it over to [senior administration official]. 
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Great.  Thanks, [moderator].  And, thanks, everyone for joining us. 
 
On April 15th, fighting erupted between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.  The outbreak scuttled more than a year of negotiations to resume civilian rule and extinguished the hope and promise of the Sudanese revolution. 
 
President Biden said on May 4th this violence is “a betrayal of the Sudanese people’s clear demand for civilian government and a transition to democracy.” 
 
In the intervening weeks, in addition to assisting with the evacuation of U.S. citizens and third-country nationals, the U.S. government has been involved in negotiating a series of ceasefires between the warring parties.  These agreements have been repeatedly violated, and the people of Sudan have suffered because of it.  There have been regular reports of airstrikes, intense fighting, rape of young women and girls, the pillaging of humanitarian goods and hospital supplies.  There are currently 1 million people internally displaced, and 375,000 people have fled to neighboring countries. 
 
The Sudanese people deserve better.  Today, the United States has taken a series of actions to hold the parties accountable and to deny them the resources, funds, and weapons that have enabled them to perpetuate this horrific conflict. 
 
Specifically, the Department of Treasury has sanctioned four companies — two affiliated with the SAF and two affiliated with the RSF. 
 
The Defense Industries System is Sudan’s largest defense enterprise.  It manufactures a range of small arms, conventional weapons, ammunition, and military vehicles for the SAF. 
 
Sudan Master Technology is an arms company that has been involved in the production of weapons and vehicles for the SAF.  Al Junaid Multi Activities is controlled by RSF Commander Hemedti and his brother, Abdul Rahim. 
 
This company operates 11 subsidiaries across multiple economic sectors, including the gold industry, which is a vital source of revenue for the Dagalo family and the RSF. 
 
And finally, Tradive General Trading is a front company controlled by another Dagalo brother, Major Algoney.  It has produced vehicles for the RSF.  Some of these have been retrofitted with machine guns for the RSF to patrol the streets of Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan. 
 
In addition, the Department of State has imposed visa restrictions on specific individuals in Sudan, including officials from the SAF, RSF, and leaders from the former Omar al-Bashir regime that have been responsible for or complicit in undermining Sudan’s democratic transition.
 
Finally, the Department of State, Treasury, Commerce, Labor, and the U.S. Agency for International Development — USAID — have issued an update to the business advisory originally in May 2022 to highlight the growing risks associated with the conflict to U.S. businesses and individuals. 
 
The United States is resolute in our belief that only a diplomatic solution will resolve the conflict.  There is no military solution.  We know that.  The international community knows that.  It’s up to the parties to recognize that and take actions towards peace in good faith for the sake of the people. 
 
We will continue to support the people of Sudan in their aspirations for civilian rule and marshal humanitarian assistance — over $245 million so far — to help Sudanese in country and those who have fled across borders. 
 
These actions flows directly from President Biden’s commitment to end of the fighting.  We will not hesitate to take additional steps if the parties continue to destroy their country and thwart the resumption of a civilian transition. 
 
With that, I can take questions. 
 
Q    Thank you.  Thanks so much for doing the call.  I have a couple of questions.  One, if the talks in Jeddah had not collapsed, would these sanctions still have been imposed today?  Can you give us a little more detail on the timing here?
 
Then, I know that visa sanctions are confidential, but are these people who this will actually matter to them?  Were they traveling to the United States?  Like, what impact will these visa sanctions have on these officials?
 
Thank you. 
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, as I said, Jennifer, from the beginning, President Biden has — gave himself the authority to impose sanctions to address the violence, to end impunity, to hold people accountable, and to push the parties towards a negotiation so that we can resume the civilian transition. 
 
These sanctions were already being considered long before there was a formal announcement by the staff that they were going to pull out of negotiations. 
 
It’s important, in our view, to hold people accountable and to recognize that until the calculus on both parties change, they will continue to fight each other and destroy this country.
 
I’m going to refer you to State on any questions around visa and those sorts of consular processes.
 
Q    Thank you so much.  Thanks, [senior administration officials].  I have a question.  What is your ultimate goal of imposing these sanctions?  And at what level do you think these sanctions will be waived?  Let’s say both parties keep engaging in this conflict; these sanctions will stay.  But what if they decided to go into a truce that lasted, let’s say, for a month or so?  Does that mean these sanctions will be waived?
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  (Inaudible.)  In the first instance, we need to hold people accountable for the violence and the destruction of Sudan.
 
Two, we’re focused on behavior change.  They are — the two parties have not abided by the various ceasefires that they have signed.  They have not adhered to the principles of international and humanitarian law.  And so by focusing on the way in which they conduct this war, how they access funds, how they access weapons, it is our goal to change their calculus and to create a scenario in which the guns will finally be silenced and we can get on with the important task of meeting the aspirations of the Sudanese people for a democratic transition.
 
I’m not going to speculate on a hypothetical situation at this point.  We’re focused on the current travesty and tragedy in Sudan and trying to stop it.
 
Q    Hi, thanks for doing this.  Given how the talks in Jeddah failed, what’s next?  Are your plans just announcing sanctions and waiting, or is there another proactive strategy here to try to hash out a ceasefire or humanitarian corridors?
 
And then, you talked about the need to hold people accountable, so why not sanction Burhan and Hemedti themselves, given that they are the principal drivers of this conflict?  Thanks.
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks, Robbie.  So, first, just a little background on where we understand the negotiations in Jeddah are. 
 
As you know, the SAF announced — formally announced their suspension in the talks.  So the reality is that neither parties have left Jeddah at this point.  They continue to talk, and they are looking for confidence-building measures.  So that is where the current status of Jeddah is.
 
But I think it’s important to zoom out and talk about the fact that this was emergency diplomacy focused narrowly on silencing the guns and getting in humanitarian assistance.  Far too little got in during the ceasefire, although we believe that we were able to support almost 2 million people in Sudan when the fighting — the intensity of the fighting lowered.
 
The focus and ultimate goal, of course, is that we need to have civilians in the lead, (inaudible) the transition, focused on the most important issues that affect their lives.
 
And so while there has been this narrow conversation about silencing the guns, it is equally important for us to work with the Sudanese people, as well as the broader international community, including the African Union, the Arab League, the U.N., IGAD, to move forward on civilian transition.
 
Q    I want to understand: Is Hemedti (inaudible) and Burhan included in this visa restriction decision?  And why not? Everybody is saying it’s kind of personal between these two generals in Sudan.  And if measures aren’t taking against them, nothing would change.  Can you elaborate a little bit?  And what’s next?
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you so much for that question.  So, first, our visa sanctions are private, and I would refer you to the State Department if you have additional questions on that.
 
Second, the most important thing that we can do to stop the fighting is to stop their access to weapons, resources, and funding.  So we think the most important thing that we can do here is to tighten the screws on these two groups, make it more difficult for them to perpetuate this conflict.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t future opportunities to pursue more sanctions, and we’re prepared to do so. 
 
Q    Hi.  Thank you so much for doing this.  I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about enforcement of the sanctions and if you expect that there will be any difficulties with that.  Have you had conversations with the UAE, for example, about the enforcement?
 
And I know you can’t speak to the individuals that were hit with visa restrictions, but could you talk a little bit about the role that you evaluate Bashir or individuals are playing in the current situation?  Thank you.
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Okay.  Daphne, can you repeat just the last part of your question?
 
Q    Yes.  Sorry.  I know you can’t speak to, like, what individuals were hit with visa restrictions, but could you talk a little bit about the role that you evaluate Bashir or individuals are playing in the current situation?
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Okay.  Thank you so much for that question.
 
When we impose sanctions that — where the authorities are from the executive order, we work with Treasury and our diplomats to make sure that there is compliance. 
 
So, if these companies are operating, or have financial flows to — in other countries, then we will engage with those countries to ensure compliance with the sanctions. 
 
With respect to the elements of the former Bashir regime, you may know that many of them are — remain as part of the Sudanese Armed Forces.  They have violated our laws multiple times.  We have sanctioned different elements of his government in the past, for the genocide in Darfur and in other crimes.
 
And, you know, our concern remains they have been freed during the violence and that they pose a negative influence on resolving this conflict.  So, that is why we included them in the visa sanctions. 
 
Q    Hello, can you hear me?
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, please go ahead.
 
Q    Perfect.  Thank you so much for doing this.  I have a few questions. 
 
First, are there any concerns about the amount of uncoordinated initiatives when it comes to Sudan?  And do you feel that this could potentially undermine the connected effort to reach a resolution?
 
And my second question is, are there any concerns about the potential economic or humanitarian consequences of the sanctions imposed lately?  And thank you.
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you for that question.  It is our view that the urgency of the crisis is what is generating multiple regional partners from seeking a solution.  It does pose a challenge to coordinate.  But the goal is shared by all of us to resolve the conflict.  We have had very productive conversations with the African Union and with IGAD and the Arab — the Arab League.
 
So, we are already doing the coordination with — we welcome the continued ideation and proposals that different partners are coming to the table with.  And I expect that we will continue to work very closely to make sure that what the international community is proposing separately and collectively meets what the Sudanese people are asking for, to end the conflict and resume the civilian — the civilian transition.
 
With respect to the effects on humanitarian assistance, again, as I said earlier, we have already provided $245 million worth of assistance for Sudan and its neighbors.  I will defer you to Treasury, but there are often — we provide carveouts and different methods and measures and so that we — the sanctions will not affect the flow of humanitarian assistance and medical (inaudible).  We generally issue general licenses to enable that.
 
Q    Hi.  Thank you.  If you could — I guess just two small things you can hit on.  One, the level of coordination with the Saudis.  And are they going to follow a similar trajectory here to put pressures on both sides? 
 
And then, to what end is — are these sanctions meaningful and not — you know, they can go to other countries to get arms and supplies.  How much of this is symbolic versus meaningful to having an actual impact on both sides?  Thank you.
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah, okay.  Thank you so much for that question.
 
Let me reiterate what I said at the top: that we’re working closely with our international partners to resolve and end this conflict.  That includes the Saudis, who have hosted these talks for multiple weeks and have worked closely with us to forge a ceasefire that has unfortunately been violated and not adhered to, but who are as committed as we are to end this conflict.
 
I will defer to you to talk to the Saudis about their own measures. 
 
These are authorities that we have, that the President gave us on May 4th, that we decided to use.  The targeting of the companies is far from symbolic.  It is choking these governments’ — these parties’ — excuse me — access to weapons and resources that allow them to perpetuate the conflict.  And they ideally will have a chilling effect on other countries who would engage with these four companies.
 
Q    Thank you so much for doing this, [senior administration official].  On these sanctions, what’s your timeline for assessing whether they’re actually going to work?  And what would that look like?
 
And then, secondly, just looking forward, what sort of action might the administration want to see from either the U.S. Congress or from the African Union in further dealing with this conflict?  Because it seems like sanctions alone will not bring about an end to this.
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, the assessment on how effective the sanctions will be will in part reflect on whether the parties seem more willing, able, and compliant with ceasefire agreements that have been negotiated and end this conflict. 
 
It will — there’s not a date certain when would we review how the sanctions are going.  It’s supposed to be cumulative in effect, and it’s supposed to complement the diplomacy, which is the most important sort of element of what we are doing here.
 
In terms of our partners, let me just flag the close cooperation that we’ve had with the African Union, who has issued their own plan to address the conflict and who we are in close coordination with throughout this progress. 
 
As I said in an earlier question, we believe it’s really important to join hands with elements of our government and the legislative branch as well as our international partners to resolve this urgent, devastating conflict.  And we continue to have robust conversations with all stakeholders who care about Sudan and who are devastated by what has happened to this country following the hope of the 2019 revolution.
 
Q    Yeah.  Thank you for taking my question.  Yesterday, I spent time with the U.S. — the Sudanese Ambassador to the U.S.  And he said that the reason that they are leaving the ceasefire is because RSF are not doing their job and the U.S. sends mixed messages, saying that the ceasefire has been — has collapsed but not actually naming the people who are responsible for that.
 
So, I’m wondering: Are you intending — are you having any conversation with the RSF (inaudible) to be, you know, boycotting the ceasefire?
 
Thank you.
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you, Simon.  As I said earlier, there have been serious violations on both sides: pillaging of humanitarian warehouses, hospitals; the rape of women and girls; airstrikes that have destroyed the city; intense fighting in Darfur. 
 
So, both parties are responsible for this conflict, which is why we imposed sanctions on companies affiliated with both parties. 
 
Also, we’ll just underscore that while the SAF has officially withdrawn from the Jeddah process, they remain in Saudi Arabia, talking to the RSF, contemplating confidence-building measures.
 
So, there is — diplomacy is always our main line of defense.  We will continue to work with the parties to address the very narrow objective of silencing the guns, at getting humanitarian assistance in.  The more — the most important thing, ultimately, of course, is to work with the Sudanese to center the effort around Sudanese people and our international partners to restore the transition to civilian rule. 
 
Thank you.
 
MODERATOR:  Thank you, everyone.  Just as a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to a “senior administration official,” and the embargo is now lifted.
 
Have a great day.
 
11:27 A.M. EDT
 

Official news published at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2023/06/01/background-press-call-on-accountability-for-the-ongoing-violence-in-sudan/