The US charge d’affaires in Sudan, Steven Koutsis, in Port Sudan on 5 June as a US ship arrives with humanitarian aid supplied by the US development agency.

The US charge d’affaires in Khartoum has told Sudan that he will channel “all … energy and focus” into having Sudan removed from the US’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, reports AFP.

Steven Koutsis, speaking during the 4 July celebration at the embassy in the Sudanese capital, welcomed Sudan’s decision to sever ties with North Korea, saying: “North Korea is a paramount national security priority for the United States.”

Sudan had always denied dealing with North Korea – another country on the US’s terrorism blacklist – but in June it announced that “its defence firms had scrapped contracts with the Asian pariah state, acknowledging for the first time the existence of deals with heavily sanctioned North Korea”, AFP reported.

A UN report published last year showed how in 2013 Sudan supplied North Korea with sophisticated air-to-ground missiles that use satellite-guidance systems.

The US had demanded Sudan end its dealings with North Korea if it wanted to be removed from the list. Sudanese officials have said that being on the blacklist has stopped much-needed economic growth, making international banks hesitant to do business with the country.

Koutsis, acknowledging the economic challenges the country is facing, pledged “that this embassy will work with all its energy and focus to create the conditions for Sudan’s removal from the list”.

Little progress on human rights

Sudan has been on the US’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism since August 1993, and has as a result has faced sanctions including restrictions on US foreign assistance, a ban on defence exports and sales, and controls over exports of dual-use items.

In October last year the US said it would lift the economic sanctions “in recognition of [Sudan’s] positive actions” in fighting terrorism, expanding humanitarian access and reinforcing a ceasefire in conflict areas.

Rights groups, lawmakers and aid workers protested, saying there had been little progress on human rights, including religious freedom, and that improvements in humanitarian aid reaching the population were only “a temporary measure to appease Western governments”.

In a recent report the US Commission on International Religious Freedom highlighted the lack of religious freedom in Sudan and stressed that improvements in this area should be “an essential goal” for the US before relations between the two countries could be fully normalised.