“At some point we’re going to have to unwind some of these sanctions,” said Special Envoy Gration as he muddied the waters during the question and answer session of his hearing today. Gration argued, "The consequences of the sanctions that result from [Sudan’s inclusion on the State Sponsors of Terrorism List], and other sanctions, are preventing us from doing the development we absolutely need to do," particularly in southern Sudan. These statements by Gration are dismaying for a number of reasons. First, there are existing clauses in sanctions legislation that allow assistance to flow to southern Sudan, and representatives from southern Sudan have certainly not been leading the charge to have sanctions lifted. Second, instead of talking about specific obstacles that might be blocking aid to the South and how to address them mutually with Congress, it sure sounded like he was pushing for Khartoum to enjoy much broader relief from sanctions. The special envoy was notably mum when directly asked by Senator Feingold what practical steps the government of Sudan had taken to deserve having sanctions lifted.
Equally remarkably, the special envoy claimed, "There’s no evidence in our intelligence community that supports [Sudan] being on the state sponsors of terrorism. It’s a political decision." That proclamation set off a sharp back and forth among the senators present amid calls for a private session to discuss the merits of what the special envoy claimed. However, even more importantly, is the special envoy accurately reflecting administration positions on this matter? Is President Obama simply keeping Sudan on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list for political reasons? Are other countries on the state sponsors list for purely political reasons? If so, far more serious questions need to be answered about how such determinations are made, although I suspect that the administration may end up doing some damage control around this one.