U.S. Sends (Another) Warning on Darfur
A man holds seeds, all he has left, at the remains of his home in the Central African Republic, where violence from Sudan has spilled over.
WASHINGTON, April 10 — While the Bush administration is dispatching another top envoy — this time Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte — to deliver another strong message to the Sudanese government about the killing in the Darfur region, critics say the diplomacy is allowing Sudan to play for time as the death toll mounts.
The administration has been trying to come up with a way to make good on repeated threats that the United States will hold President Omar Hassan al-Bashir accountable for the violence in Darfur, where 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2.5 million displaced.
But even now, Democrats are demanding a plan to address the Darfur crisis, and suggesting their own proposals, including one to impose a no-flight zone over Darfur, and another to authorize American states to divest from foreign companies invested in Sudan.
Bush administration officials said last month that they were fed up and ready to impose new sanctions against Sudan, including restrictions on companies that do business there in American dollars. Andrew S. Natsios, the United States special envoy to Sudan, told members of Congress that the administration was also considering travel bans on some Sudanese officials, and confiscating the savings accounts of Sudanese politicians connected with the government-backed Arab militias, called the janjaweed.
So far, Mr. Bashir has yet to yield in response to a demand from the United States that Sudan permit a United Nations peacekeeping force to help beleaguered African Union troops stop the militias from raping and killing unarmed civilians.
Administration officials said that an angry President Bush personally ordered up the new sanctions. It was Mr. Bush who told the General Assembly last fall that the credibility of the United Nations was at stake in Darfur.
But after hearing from United Nations envoys that the organization wants more time for diplomacy, the State Department said last week that Mr. Negroponte was heading to Sudan. Administration officials have billed the trip as one last chance to try to get Mr. Bashir to allow a United Nations peacekeeping force.
It remains unclear what Mr. Negroponte can accomplish that a succession of administration officials to Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, could not. Gayle Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said Mr. Bashir was stalling. “If Khartoum is true to form, the government will offer something that sounds real but means nothing in order to buy more time,” said Ms. Smith, an Africa adviser to former President Bill Clinton.
“How many bites of the apple does Khartoum get?” Ms. Smith said. “There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Khartoum is calculating on the fact that when we say, ‘this is it,’ we don’t mean it.”
Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, has summoned Mr. Natsios to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a hearing on Wednesday. The news release on the hearing includes a derisive heading. “Topic: Darfur,” it says. “A ‘Plan B’ to Stop Genocide?”
State Department officials last year threatened an unspecified “Plan B” by Jan. 1 if Mr. Bashir did not agree to the U.N. force, but “Plan B” has yet to materialize.
Administration officials say their own version of Plan B would include the United States travel ban and financial sanctions. In addition, the United States and Britain will try to push the United Nations Security Council into imposing sanctions against Sudan. So far, the United Nations has proved more recalcitrant on cracking down on Mr. Bashir, in part because China, which has extensive business ties to Sudan and generally dislikes the use of sanctions, has blocked multilateral action.
American and British officials say that they are now getting close to trying to force the issue at the Security Council, and may try to push for a vote. Britain has now taken over the chairmanship of the Security Council from South Africa, and the United States is next in line after Britain.
But Bush administration officials have promised action before and come up short. On Aug. 31 last year, Jendayi Frazer, the State Department’s top Africa official, after meeting with Sudanese government officials, said she was “very confident that ultimately they will accept” the international peacekeeping force. Two weeks later, on Sept. 19, President Bush gave his speech at the General Assembly.
“If the Sudanese government does not approve the peacekeeping force quickly, the U.N. must act,” he said.
A week later, in a speech, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that if the Sudanese government “continues waging war against its own citizens, challenging the African Union, undermining the peacekeeping force, and threatening the international community, then the regime in Khartoum will be held responsible, and it alone will bear the consequences of its actions.”
Now, more than six months later, there is still no United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur.
Sudan’s government says the violence has been exaggerated for political reasons.
In agreements signed last year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Abuja, Nigeria, Mr. Bashir appeared to accept the deployment of United Nations troops, only to back away. The same thing happened this year; Mr. Bashir agreed to an interim “heavy support” package of 3,000 well-equipped military police officers along with aviation and logistics support.
But then, in a long letter to Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, on March 9, Mr. Bashir asked to reopen that agreement. Mr. Ban protested that the Sudanese president was reneging, and Western officials said any reworking of the pact would delay a peacekeeping force until the start of 2008.
[The Associated Press reported Tuesday that during further talks in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, United Nations and Sudanese officials had reached agreement on some elements to beef up the peacekeeping force during meetings on Monday, but that additional issues remained. Bush administration officials said they were not aware that such an accord had been reached.]
Congressional Democrats, backed by some Republicans, have introduced a flurry of bills. In one proposal, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, introduced a bill in March that would authorize states to divest from foreign companies invested in Sudan. Several states have passed such laws, but a federal judge in February struck down an Illinois law as unconstitutional.