Lawmakers up pressure on Biden to change struggling Sudan policy

A number of Republican and Democratic lawmakers are urging the Biden administration to shift its policy on Sudan on Friday, as its efforts to bring the devastating civil war to an end show few signs of progress.

Sudan’s army and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group have been battling for more than a year now, a brutal conflict that has led to widespread death, sexual violence and the world’s largest internal displacement crisis.

The Biden administration has spoken with leaders involved in the war to try to get both sides to resume talks backed by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia in Jeddah to end the war. But there’s been little to show for it.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a top ally of President Joe Biden who used to chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on African Affairs, said it’s time for the White House to do more.

“The U.S. must do more to empower Sudanese civilians and civil society groups in peace talks, seek accountability for the war crimes committed during this conflict, and continue to support a transition to a civilian-led government that reflects the will of the Sudanese people,” Coons said in a statement.

About 2.5 million more people in Sudan are at risk of dying from hunger by September, and civilians are at “imminent risk of famine,” top U.N. officials warned on Friday.

A number of top U.S. officials have tried to make headway. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield has been outspoken about the dire humanitarian situation in Sudan, and Special Envoy Tom Perriello has continuously voiced concerns and worked with partners to end the war in Sudan.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with RSF General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan about possible peace talks. On Wednesday, a top Burhan aide said the group “will not go to Jeddah, and whoever wants us to should kill us in our country and take our bodies there.”

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the administration’s sanctions policy is “uncoordinated and not part of a larger strategy to achieve a lasting ceasefire.” He also called on the White House to target countries that supply weapons and materiel to both sides of this conflict.

“This administration has consistently not prioritized conflicts in Africa and has stuck with flawed strategies, even when they do not work. Sudan is a perfect example,” McCaul said in a statement.

Former officials also argued the administration’s efforts don’t seem to be bearing fruit.

“There is no evidence that U.S. policy is working,” said Michelle Gavin, former U.S. ambassador to Botswana in the Obama administration. “The U.S. appears to be far more invested in the Jeddah process than the belligerents or other influential regional actors.”

Asked for a response, the Biden administration emphasized Perriello’s appointment in February, sanctions against nine entities and seven individuals in Sudan, and humanitarian assistance to the country.

“We have been unequivocal about our position toward this senseless war in Sudan,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement. “We will continue to push all parties to come to a negotiated settlement that allows the Sudanese people to shape their political future.”

Perriello’s appointment in particular “has injected long overdue energy and direction into the U.S.’s response,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said in a statement.

The largest obstacles for the U.S. are that neither battling side appears interested in ending the war, and several other countries are directly fueling it.

Iran has provided military assistance to Sudan’s army, the United Arab Emirates has been accused of supplying the Rapid Support forces with weapons, and Russia’s paramilitary force Wagner Group has also helped the Rapid Support Forces. There are signs that Moscow may change the side it supports in exchange for establishing a Russian logistics center in Port Sudan.

“The U.S. does not have much leverage with the warring parties and seems unwilling to use real leverage on their foreign supporters,” Gavin said, a point also made this week by Benjamin Mossberg, a former senior administration official who worked on Africa policy.

A version of this story previously appeared in POLITICO’s National Security Daily newsletter. Like this content? Consider signing up!