Today, Sudanese foreign minister Ali Karti reportedly attended the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, along with president Barack Obama and numerous members of Congress.
Karti is a high-ranking official from a US-sanctioned government and a State Department-listed state sponsor of terrorism. Karti’s specific rap sheet is fairly long as well, and includes “spearhead[ing] efforts to kick out senior UN officials” and overseeing brutal local militias during the Sudan’s long-running north-south civil war.
His presence at one of Capitol Hill’s major annual events was notable enough for him to be uninvited to a more exclusive pre-breakfast meeting, according to multiple sources Business Insider consulted.
But the question of what Karti was doing at the prayer breakfast is perhaps less interesting than what he was doing in the US, period. Karti is a prominent official from a US-sanctioned government. And he was apparently allowed to travel to the US in a private capacity and without any official diplomatic business.
“The directors of the National Prayer Breakfast invited Foreign Minister Karti to attend their event, taking place today,” a State Department official told Business Insider. “To our knowledge, he is not meeting with any administrative officials.” (The breakfast is organised by a group called The Fellowship Foundation).
Bart Fisher, whose law firm provides legal advice to Sudan’s government with the aim of “untangling” the US sanctions regime, told Business Insider that he did not know who invited Karti to the prayer breakfast and was not aware of the purpose of Karti’s visit to the US. “That’s news to me that he attended the National Prayer Breakfast,” Fisher said when reached for comment this morning. “He’s a fine man and if he’s in the US, I’m sure it’s for a good purpose.”
Karti is not the only high-ranking Sudanese official in Washington this week. Ibrahim Ghandour, a close advisor to Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, is also in the US to meet with the office of the US’s Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan. Ghandour is reportedly in the US so that American officials can discuss the Khartoum regime’s refusal to allow US special envoy Donald Booth to visit Sudan and to figure out ways to improve ongoing bilateral dialogue between the countries.
The State Department might have decided that blocking Karti from visiting the US would jeopardize their objectives in meeting with Ghandour and would have been needlessly provocative in the run-up to this fairly high-level diplomatic meeting. And as Fisher told Business Insider, he’s noticed the Obama administration’s attitude toward Sudan soften somewhat since his firm began advising the Sudanese government.
Fisher says that the administration has been receptive in reconsidering whether certain Sudanese entities should remain under US sanctions. “I say I think we’re going in the right direction — I believe more positive than when I started on this exercise three years ago,” he told Business Insider.
This also isn’t the only time in the past year that Karti has traveled within the United States in a less-than-official capacity. In September, Karti addressed the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York. Shortly afterwards, he delivered a keynote address at a World Peace Day event organised by theCharlotte Cooperation Councilin Charlotte, North Carolina.
According to the AP, the US will often issue visas that limit diplomats from “countries it disfavors” to a 25-mile radius of New York, in order to allow those countries to maintain a UN mission. Sam Wazan, who extended the speaking invitation to Karti, told Business Insider that both law enforcement and local government in Charlotte were informed of Karti’s visit and organisers were “unaware of any limitations on his visa.”
The semi-recent visit to Charlotte, along with this second, also unofficial trip, suggests that Karti is under a visa regime that allows him to travel to the US without an official invitation or an explicit diplomatic mission — and that lets him go places other than New York and Washington. And if it turns out Karti traveled for the prayer breakfast without having to apply for a US visa or inform the State Department ahead of time, it suggests that he possesses a multi-entry visa and has remarkably broad latitude to enter the US.
When asked whether Karti was visiting the US on a multiple entry visa, a State Department official told Business Insider that “Visa cases are confidential under US law,” adding that “We cannot discuss the details of individual cases.”
Several advocates believe that Karti shouldn’t have any right to enter the United States. Eric Reeves, a Smith College professor and researcher who has proven influential in shaping both official and US public opinion around Sudan-related issues,argues that Karti’s presenceviolates the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement office’s own rules preventing the admission of “foreign war crimes suspects, persecutors, and human rights abusers into the United States.”
Esther Sprague, a co-founder of Act for Sudan and founder of Sudan Unlimited, also objects to Karti’s presence in the US. “It doesn’t make sense to reward the regime that’s committing ongoing violence against the Sudanese people with visits to the US, which is a reward,” she told Business Insider.
She believes it’s wishful thinking to believe that someone like Karti — who represents a US-sanctioned government and has been accused of war crimes — is capable of visiting the US in anything like a non-official capacity. “He’s a public figure. And he has blood on his hands.”
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.