U.N. Sought Delay in Sudan Sanctions
By MATTHEW LEE
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush was poised to slap tough new U.S. sanctions on Sudan this week for failing to halt bloodshed in Darfur, but held off after direct appeals from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, officials said Thursday.
Bush planned to unveil the measures in an address at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington on Wednesday and aides had told Darfur advocacy groups a day earlier they could expect an announcement to that effect, the officials said.
Instead, he delivered a last warning to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, telling him he must take quick, concrete steps to ease the situation in Darfur or face the sanctions, which he outlined in detail but stopped short of actually imposing.
In the interim, “there is a real diplomatic effort under way,” John Holmes, U.N. coordinator for humanitarian affairs, said Thursday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“We need time to continue this,” Holmes said. “We need to get people around the table again.”
The Sudanese government and the rebels agree there is no military solution, he said.
Holmes declined to say whether the White House and the United Nations coordinated strategies to delay sanctions for two weeks or more.
Officials said initial drafts of Bush’s speech contained harsher language that was modified after two phone calls between Ban and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, first on Tuesday and then just before the address on Wednesday.
“The speech changed as a result of those conversations,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday.
“He (Ban) did make an appeal to give diplomacy a little more time and we felt it was important to allow the secretary general to pursue something he thought was important and worthwhile to pursue,” McCormack told reporters.
Darfur advocates expressed surprise and dismay with Bush’s revised speech. Some officials maintained the administration had been hostile to Ban’s request and went along only reluctantly.
One official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was describing internal deliberations, said many in the administration thought Ban’s suggestion was a “lousy idea,” but that Washington did not want to undermine the U.N. chief and deferred to him.
Ban argued to Rice that al-Bashir’s recent decision to allow parts of a hybrid U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur was “diplomatically promising and perhaps portended some future action” toward full acceptance of the mission, McCormack said.
“I guess we’re going to put that to the test,” he said, adding that the United States remained deeply skeptical about Khartoum’s intentions in Darfur, particularly with its continued support for militia blamed for much of the violence.
Deployment of the peacekeepers to take over from a cash-strapped and understaffed African Union force is deemed key to stabilizing the troubled region where more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in a four-year conflict.
Al-Bashir’s government repeatedly has given contradictory signals about the hybrid mission, including to Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte who visited Khartoum and Darfur earlier this week, officials said.
Negroponte reported directly back to Bush after his meetings in Sudan, telling the president he saw no reason for new optimism on the matter, officials said.
Thus, the speech that Bush eventually delivered was still blunt in tone, they said.
“The world needs to act,” Bush said. “If President al-Bashir does not meet his obligations, the United States of America will act. It is evil we’re now seeing in Sudan and we’re not going to back down.”
But advocacy groups and lawmakers criticized the speech for not going far enough and failing to immediately enact sanctions or set a specific timeline for compliance with international demands.
McCormack insisted Thursday that al-Bashir had only “weeks” to comply or be hit with the new U.S. sanctions and a concerted push for more U.N. sanctions in the Security Council.
Among the actions Bush warned Sudan about were targeted sanctions against specific Sudanese people and businesses and blocking the government’s dollar transactions within the U.S. financial system.
The United States will also be pushing new U.N. measures, including an expanded arms embargo on Sudan and prohibiting Sudan’s government from conducting offensive military flights over Darfur, he said.