February 23, 2020

Time to take a position

Wow – is really the only thing I can come up with after reading this.

Below is the relevant section of the transcript from yesterday’s U.S. State Department press briefing by Phillip Crowley. If you have the bandwidth (I don’t) you can watch the video of it. And if anyone knows who this incredibly persistent member of the press corps asking the questions was, please let me know.

I’m all for them doing a very thorough review of Sudan policy. And I understand there will be at least as many different positions in the Administration as there currently are in the advocacy community on the right way forward – God knows it’s a complex situation. But at some point I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect an Administration to get a position together – – and more than six months into their time in office would seem to be hitting that point.

I’m starting to feel like almost any position would be better than this muddle. The one thing that surely everyone from Gration to Rice, Reeves to de Waal and beyond can agree on, is that divisions among those it interacts with work to Khartoum’s advantage. We have seen it in the south, in Darfur, between the rebels, between the aid organizations who did and did not go back in, between AU members over the ICC, and now we are seeing it with Obama Administration as well. Time’s up guys. Finish the review and take a policy position.

31 July, 2009 [a.k.a. -1994 press briefing redux]

QUESTION: Yesterday, on the Hill, the special envoy for Sudan said that there was no evidence to support the designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, said that sanctions were hurting his ability to do his job and they weren’t effective. And I’m wondering, since the building didn’t have a reaction to this yesterday, I’m wondering what the reaction is today.

MR. CROWLEY: There is a comprehensive policy review that is going on regarding Sudan. Obviously, there are a number of issues attached to that. Obviously, the situation in Darfur is critically important, as is implementation of the Comprehensive North-South Peace Agreement, the resolution of which will fundamentally affect the future of Sudan. We have a number of bilateral issues with Sudan – obviously, terrorism being a crucial one. We have received improved counterterrorism cooperation with Sudan in recent years. So that process is ongoing, and I would expect it to be completed in the coming weeks.

QUESTION: Okay. Thinking back on your answer, I’m not sure you answered my question.

MR. CROWLEY: You made a detailed rundown of —

QUESTION: Well, here’s the – let me rephrase it then. Does the Administration agree with General Gration’s assessment?

MR. CROWLEY: Assessment?

QUESTION: Of – that the sanctions – that Sudan is not – that there’s no evidence that Sudan is a state sponsor of terrorism, as it is designated; that the sanctions are hurting his ability – his —

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. Well, on that issue, obviously, as we speak, Sudan is on the state sponsor of terrorism list. It was put on the state sponsor of terrorism list for a very good reason. There is a legal process that you have to go through, set legal criteria if there’s a decision to remove a country, any country, from a state sponsor of terrorism list. But I would just say that all issues attached to Sudan are part of this review, and this review is ongoing.

QUESTION: I’m still not getting the answer to my question. Does the Administration agree with what General Gration said yesterday on the Hill?

MR. CROWLEY: On what subject? I —

QUESTION: On what I just asked you about.

MR. CROWLEY: All right.

QUESTION: I mean —

MR. CROWLEY: This is harder than – let’s face it, this is —

QUESTION: He also said that it was a political decision to keep them on.

MR. CROWLEY: On the issue of whether Sudan is a state sponsor of terrorism, it’s on our list, it remains on our list. There’s a set process in law and – but where we have been with Sudan, where we are with Sudan, where we want to go with Sudan is all incorporated into this review. And it is ongoing, and we expect this review to be completed. At that point, I think the President, the Secretary will lay out where we’re going to go with Sudan going forward.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I’m obviously dense because I don’t think you’re answering my question. I mean, I don’t see how you think that that’s an answer to the question.


QUESTION: Does the Administration agree with the remarks that General Gration made yesterday on the Hill?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it was a detailed —

QUESTION: Or is he on his own?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, what I’m having trouble with is, it was a very detailed testimony. It touched on a number of subjects in the relationship.

QUESTION: But I’m specifically asking you about the state sponsor of terrorism – him saying it’s a political decision to keep them on, him saying that there’s no evidence —

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all I can say is today, Sudan remains on the state sponsor of terrorism list. It was put there for very good reason. And there is a process that the government goes through if it – as it – I mean, we evaluate this all the time. We’re always evaluating a variety of countries in terms of the issue of terrorism.

QUESTION: I understand that. That’s fair.

MR. CROWLEY: And this is part of the ongoing review that is currently underway.

QUESTION: Well, what is part of the ongoing review?

QUESTION: Taking them off the list is part of the —

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, we’re going – I mean, I can only repeat what I just said. There are a wide range of —

QUESTION: I am trying to get you to answer a specific question about whether General Gration is speaking for the Administration, or if he’s out on his own freelancing when he says things like that, as – particularly that it’s a political decision to keep them on the list, that there’s no evidence, and that the sanctions are hurting the ability – his ability to do his job.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, actually, there is a legal process that you have to go through.

QUESTION: I’m not interested in the process. I’m interested in you – the Administration’s response to his testimony.

MR. CROWLEY: I’m giving you the Administration’s response to his testimony, which is: Today, Sudan is on the state sponsor of terrorism list for a good reason, and today, there is no change to their —

QUESTION: So there’s a disagreement?


MR. CROWLEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, just to be specific, is this – is taking them off the state sponsors of terrorism list under part of the review? Is this what you’re looking at in great detail, number one? Number two, where do you stand on the genocide issue? Do you think genocide is taking place or not taking place?

MR. CROWLEY: On that second point, the President has said that genocide has taken place in Darfur. But as General Gration himself said yesterday, our focus is not on definitions. Our focus is right now on the dire situation that we see with the people of Darfur.

QUESTION: But why is your focus not on definitions? I mean, if genocide is taking place, that unleashes a whole gamut of responses. So what you’re saying is if the genocide has taken place – but you’re not sure whether it’s still taking place because you’re – this is all under review and you’re still thinking about it?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, what’s important here – I mean, in any kind of evaluation – and we’re going through an evaluation right now – we take stock of what has happened, we take stock of what is happening. And most important, we look forward – there are a number of critical relation – critical issues inherent in the relationship between the United States and Sudan.

The situation in Darfur is of critical importance and has been for some time. The future of the country hinges on implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement and the decision that will be made in the south in 2011 regarding its independence. This is – this relationship is not about any one thing. It’s about many, many things. Terrorism is a concern to us because of actions that Sudan has taken in the past, which is why – but as we are looking at our bilateral relationship and the other issues attached to that, we are reviewing all of these aspects, where Sudan stands in terms of combating terrorism. And our evaluation of that obviously can have an impact in future decisions.

QUESTION: So in other words, labeling what is happening as genocide would have an impact on how you move ahead with the North-South agreement, and that could jeopardize your chances of getting the government to really move ahead on the North-South agreement? Am I understanding this correctly? That’s why you have this linguistic problem?

MR. CROWLEY: As General Gration said yesterday, his focus is on the current situation in Sudan, the plight of the people of Sudan, which includes the plight of the people in Darfur, and what we can do – what the international community can do, and what the Government of Sudan must do to improve their situation.

QUESTION: But some people think that what you’re doing is you’re playing down the situation so that you can keep Khartoum happy so that you can get concessions from them in other areas, and that this is making the situation on the ground even worse, and that it’s – could be comparable, if this – to, you know, what happened, for example, in Rwanda-Burundi, for example, where the administration – the Clinton Administration took a very, very, very long time to label something as genocide and, in fact, didn’t act. So those kinds of accusations are going to, I would suspect, be thrown at you, as a top State —

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. I would – again, let me go back and repeat what the President has said. The President has said that what occurred in Darfur – what has taken place in Darfur has been genocide, and we remain deeply concerned about that.

QUESTION: Let me just ask, again, the question: Is the Administration seriously looking at taking Sudan off the terrorism list as part of its review? I didn’t hear an answer to that.

MR. CROWLEY: It’s safe to say that we are currently reviewing all issues related to our relationship with Sudan and – as point one. Point two is that we are always looking at all countries in the world and making judgments on a continuing basis, based on intelligence, of what countries are – may be guilty of aiding and abetting acts of terrorism. And so on a continuing basis we’re not only evaluating countries that perhaps should be put on that list, we also on a continuing basis review countries that are on the list and where their performance has changed in any way. And Sudan is no different than what we do for all of the countries on that list on a continuing basis.


QUESTION: Will you take the special envoy comments into consideration during this review?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m sorry. Try again?

QUESTION: Would you take the special envoy’s comments yesterday into consideration during this review?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, clearly, in a comprehensive, government-wide policy review, the special envoy for Sudan will play a critical role in that policy review. And then once the President makes specific decisions along with the Secretary of State, implementation of whatever policy is decided.


QUESTION: Back to North Korea —

QUESTION: No, no, no. Can we – I need to stay on this. I’m sorry. I still am looking for an answer to my – is there any daylight between General Gration’s comments and the Administration’s thinking?

MR. CROWLEY: General Gration is the special envoy for Sudan.

QUESTION: Is he speaking for the Administration, or is he speaking on his own?

MR. CROWLEY: General Gration is a member in good standing with the Administration.

QUESTION: And he, in those comments yesterday, reflected the Administration’s current thinking on the situation in Sudan?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, and my caveat, Matt, is that there is a – General Gration spoke about issues that are a subject of the policy review, a review that is ongoing. So —

QUESTION: But the Administration’s current thinking is at odds with what he said.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I would say that —

QUESTION: Is that correct?

MR. CROWLEY: — it is safe to say on an issue as large and complex as Sudan, you may infer that different agencies, different individuals may agree broadly on many things, and may have differences of view on certain elements. In the Obama Administration, there is a very healthy interagency process. There are genuine debates that go on all the time within the Administration about very difficult and very challenging information.

The President has created an atmosphere that encourages debate. And in debate about complex issues, it is not unusual that different individuals and different agencies may come at an issue with different perspectives. That all is part of a valid and effective review process. Sudan is no different. I think you’ll have – you’ve reported similar issues when it comes to North Korea, Iran, other things.

There is a policy review going on. I’m sure within that policy review, certain elements of that are being debated, and it may well be that different individuals have different perspectives. But the policy review is ongoing. The President has not yet made final decisions on what we’re going to do with respect to Sudan. General Gration has been traveling extensively in the region, has had extensive consultations with the Government of Sudan and other governments that are focused on Sudan as well, and brings that perspective back to Washington, and that perspective informs what he says on the Hill and what he says to the President and what he says to the Secretary of State.

QUESTION: Okay. So in other words, what you’ve just said is that he is not speaking for the Administration. This is his own personal view.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no, what I’m saying is General Gration is the special envoy for the Administration for Sudan, and he brings an important perspective to the ongoing debate about –

QUESTION: But he was talking about —

MR. CROWLEY: — what we should do in the future with and about Sudan.

QUESTION: So his testimony then was his own perspective and not Administration policy?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll try it again, which is there is an ongoing review. General Gration is part of that review. I think what you heard on the Hill was his current perspective on the current situation.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. CROWLEY: Whether that may or may not end up being exactly what the President and Secretary of State decide in terms of our policy approach to Sudan.



QUESTION: It’s crystal clear now. (Laughter.)


  1. It was probably Matthew Lee of the AP.

  2. it’s actually two journalists that tag team… thanks for the pointer. when you get to a better connection, scroll to about minute 4 to start.


  1. […] my money, Bec Hamilton gets it exactly right: The one thing that surely everyone from Gration to Rice, Reeves to de Waal […]

  2. […] is now, finally, a single script for U.S. government officials to follow on Sudan. Compared to the depressingly confused scenes coming from the Press Briefing Room earlier this year, the ability to tow a single line, in public […]

  3. […] my money, Bec Hamilton gets it exactly right: The one thing that surely everyone from Gration to Rice, Reeves to de Waal […]

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