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FILE PHOTO - Sudan's Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour is seen during a meeting with Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (not pictured) in Cairo, Egypt June 3, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany(reuters_tickers)
By Lesley Wroughton
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan's foreign minister said on Tuesday that his country, which has been under U.S. sanctions for 20 years, was looking forward to normal ties being restored.
The minister, Ibrahim Ghandour, made his remarks at a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump's new aid administrator ahead of an Oct. 12 deadline for a decision by Washington on easing some of the sanctions.
"We know the queries in the mind of each one of us," Ghandour told Mark Green, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
"On our side we look forward for a normalization of our relations with an important country - the important country in the world - the U.S.," said Ghandour, who has overseen dialogue with Washington over the easing of 20-year-old sanctions.
He added: "I look forward to seeing a normal relation between my country and yours."
Former U.S. President Barack Obama announced the easing of sanctions in January, just before he stepped down, as a goodwill gesture recognising Sudan's increased cooperation in the fight against terrorism and Khartoum's pivot from Iran to the Gulf States.
Any such move could suspend a trade embargo, unfreeze assets and remove financial restrictions that have hobbled the Sudanese economy.
The North African country wants to regain access to the global banking system, potentially unlocking badly needed trade and foreign investment. It needs both to cope with an inflation rate of 35 percent and a shortage of foreign currency that has crippled its ability to purchase from abroad.
But implementation of the move was delayed for six months to allow Sudan more time to make progress on key demands and to give the new Trump administration time to settle in.
Among the conditions set by the United States for the easing of sanctions is increased humanitarian access to communities afflicted by years of conflict.
Any lifting of economic penalties would be a major turnaround for the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who once played host to Osama bin Laden and is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of orchestrating genocide in Darfur.
Washington has not weakened its condemnation of the tactics the Sudanese government used in Darfur - and Sudan remains on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, alongside Iran and Syria
Reporters were ushered from the room before Green could make remarks. However, Green told Reuters on Monday after visiting North Darfur state that there had been improvements to humanitarian access.
In particular, for the first time in seven years aid workers were allowed into Jebel Marra, a mountainous region in central, north and south Darfur where clashes between the government and rebels persist, according to USAID reports.
While he acknowledged progress, Green said the final decision on sanctions was up to Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
"Certainly there has been progress particularly in recent weeks," Green said, "This is not a matter of whether things look perfect on the date that a decision is made, it's whether or not long-lasting changes have been made."
The United States first imposed sanctions on Sudan in 1997, including a trade embargo and blocking the government's assets, for human rights violations and terrorism concerns. The United States layered on more sanctions in 2006 for what it said was complicity in the violence in Sudan's Darfur region.
(Additional reporting by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Richard Balmforth)