Bush Presses Sudan on Darfur, Citing Possible U.S. Sanctions
WASHINGTON, April 18 — President Bush invoked the powerful imagery of the Holocaust on Wednesday to intensify pressure on Sudan, warning that the United States would impose stiff economic sanctions and seek others from the United Nations if President Omar Hassan al-Bashir does not bring a quick end to the brutal violence in Darfur.
“The time for promises is over — President Bashir must act,” Mr. Bush said, speaking at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “The world needs to act. If President Bashir does not meet his obligations to the United States of America, we’ll act.”
But Mr. Bush stopped short of imposing sanctions immediately, a step that people inside and outside the administration who have been working on the issue said he had been prepared to take just days ago.
In the end, officials said, Mr. Bush bowed to pleas from the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who called Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday to ask for more time to negotiate with Mr. Bashir. Mr. Ban also raised the issue directly with the president last week. The White House made it clear that Mr. Bush was skeptical that those negotiations would succeed.
“He’s very frustrated about this,” one senior administration official said of Mr. Bush, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations. “We’ve seen a pattern of agreements made and never carried out, commitments to facilitate made and what we get is obstruction.”
Mr. Bush has been trying to come up with a way to end what his administration has said it regards as genocide in Darfur, in western Sudan, where 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2.5 million displaced. His comments on Wednesday were the sharpest in a string of American warnings to the government in Khartoum over the past year.
He said he would give Mr. Bashir “a short period of time” — Mr. Bush was not specific, but administration officials put the time frame at several weeks — to agree to a full deployment of United Nations peacekeeping forces; to end his support for the janjaweed, the militias that have been carrying out systematic killings of civilians in Darfur; and to allow aid to reach the region.
If Mr. Bashir does not comply, Mr. Bush said that he would direct the Treasury Department to block any dollar transactions between the Sudanese government and the United States, and to bar 29 Sudanese companies from doing business here. He said he would also impose sanctions against individuals responsible for the violence and direct Ms. Rice to seek new United Nations sanctions.
Some of the advocates for peace in Darfur, who have long criticized the administration for inaction, expressed severe disappointment that he did not take stronger action. Still, some said the specter of the president laying out a specific plan for sanctions against Sudan to an audience of Holocaust survivors — including Elie Wiesel, an author and Nobel Peace Prize winner — signaled a new level of intensity.
“The president has now embarked on a new phase,” Mr. Wiesel said after the speech. Asked if he thought the action was too late, he said: “I am a Jew who believes in daily miracles. When such a miracle occurs, rather than saying ‘Why so late?’ I am thankful that it is done.”
Bush administration officials said last month that they were fed up with Sudan’s refusal to permit the deployment of United Nations peacekeepers in the country and that the president was ready to impose the kind of sanctions he outlined Wednesday. Andrew S. Natsios, the United States special envoy to Sudan, recently shared the proposal — which the administration calls Plan B — with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Then, on Monday, Sudan announced that it had dropped its objections to letting a 3,000-member United Nations force of military police officers and six attack helicopters into Darfur. The move, the second stage of a process aimed at getting a total force of 21,000 peacekeepers into the region, came just as a confidential United Nations study found that Sudan was flying arms and heavy equipment into Darfur in planes painted white, apparently to masquerade as United Nations jets.
Those developments, coupled with the pleas from Mr. Ban, forced the White House on Tuesday to reconsider Mr. Bush’s long-planned speech. Officials were still working out the precise language Tuesday evening.
Mr. Ban, in Rome on an official visit, said through a spokeswoman that he appreciated Mr. Bush’s statement. And at the United Nations, ambassadors from China, Russia and South Africa said the Sudanese announcement persuaded them that this was not the time for sanctions.
“Why do we have to be so negative?” said Vitaly I. Churkin, the Russian ambassador.
Mr. Bush has been under political pressure from human rights advocates at home to act. But the speech came as a shock to the advocates, who had been advised earlier in the week by the State Department and the White House Office of Political Affairs that they would like what they heard.
Even so, Larry Rossin, an official with the Save Darfur Coalition, an umbrella group representing an alliance of faith-based and advocacy organizations, said he was heartened that the president had put Plan B in his own words.
“Plan B, which has been around for months but has always been kind of hidden, is now public,” he said, “and it’s not merely public out of the mouth of Andrew Natsios, but it’s out of the mouth of the president of the United States before a bunch of Holocaust survivors, and us. It’s on the record now, and they are on the hook.”
Warren Hoge contributed reporting from the United Nations.