A sticky mess over gum.

Author:Bonzom, Marie-Christine
Position:US-Sudan relations

The humble gum arabic has entangled the Clinton administration into a sticky mess. Following its political rhetoric against Sudan, the government was just about to pass a bill banning all trade with the African state; then it discovered that it cannot live without one product that only Sudan can supply in adequate volumes.

Sudan has found some allies in Washington. This is big news when one considers that the United States usually sees Sudan as a 'pariah' or 'rogue' state. Now, a group of large American companies are saying that the US cannot live without Sudan. Why not? Because of gum arabic.

These companies, among them top brand names such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, M&M and the SlimFast diet drink, make scores of every-day products of which gum arabic is an essential ingredient: soft drinks, candies, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and even printing inks! This gum arabic lobbying group is voicing its opposition to two bills that, if adopted by Congress, would shut down commerce between the US and Sudan.

Until now, the Sudanese government has had absolutely no support and no lobbying clout in the capital of the world's only superpower. Sudan routinely appears on the list of countries viewed by the US Department of State as terrorists or financiers of international terrorism, along with Libya, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

In July, in its first ever report on religious persecutions, the State Department condemned the government of President Omar Hassan AlBashir for forced conversions to Islam and other maltreatments that it imposes on non-Muslims in Sudan, whether they are animists or Christians. Sudan is also widely criticised in the US for its practice of slavery.

At the end of September though, relations seemed to have warned up a bit between Washington any Khartoum when the Clinton administration announced that the US embassy in Khartoum would resume some of its activities. But the State Department insisted that only mid-level and support staff would be reassigned to that post and stressed that the decision to effectively re-open an embassy that had been almost deserted since January 1996 was based on a "certain improvement of the security situation in Khartoum," and that it did "not represent a change in the status of US-Sudan relations." To assert this point, the American ambassador continues to reside outside of Sudan and visit the embassy only occasionally to express Washington's displeasure vis-a-vis the Sudanese government.

Thus, at first glance...

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