KHARTOUM: US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan arrived Thursday in Sudan for a two-day visit to push for human rights and religious freedom, weeks after Washington ended sanctions against Khartoum.
Sullivan is the highest ranking official from US President Donald Trump's administration to visit Khartoum since the trade embargo was lifted on October 12.
For Khartoum, his visit is an opportunity to push for removing Sudan from Washington's blacklist of "state sponsors of terrorism".
Sullivan will meet top Sudanese officials and discuss "human rights including religious freedom", the US State Department said ahead of his visit.
Washington has regularly expressed concerns about Khartoum's human rights record given the restrictions on religious and media freedoms in the country.
Rights groups have accused Sudan's security forces of arbitrarily detaining journalists, opposition politicians and human rights defenders.
Sudan's powerful National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) often confiscates entire print-runs of newspapers without giving a reason, particularly when they publish articles opposing government policies.
Campaign groups have urged Washington to consider such issues when formulating policy with Khartoum.
"Ever since the significantly Christian South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011, the Sudanese government has focussed greater attention on reducing the number of churches and their activities in Sudan," Washington-based Enough Project's John Prendergast wrote days before the lifting of the sanctions.
Khartoum insists that Sudan enjoys human rights and religious freedom, which it says is exemplified by several churches existing adjacent to mosques.
"Progress on issues such as human rights and religious freedom... ending the civil conflict and bringing all Sudanese into the political process... are very important to us," Ervin Massinga, Deputy Chief of US mission said recently in Khartoum.
During discussions with Sullivan, Khartoum will push for removing Sudan from Washington's list of "state sponsors of terrorism".
"It's an extremely important visit for us," senior foreign ministry official Abdelghani Elnaim told AFP.
"Our agenda is to remove Sudan from the list of terrorism as well as to achieve the objective of full normalisation of relations with the United States."