By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
President Bush has proposed meeting with Sudan's president, Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, as an incentive for Bashir to lift his adamant opposition to the introduction of U.N. peacekeeping forces in Sudan's troubled Darfur region, according to a Sudanese government spokesman and U.S. government officials.
The offer of a high-profile meeting on the sidelines of next month's U.N. General Assembly debate was made yesterday by Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi E. Frazer in a meeting with Bashir in Khartoum. The Sudanese president had kept Frazer waiting since Saturday, citing a busy schedule, even though he knew that she was bringing a message from Bush.
Two years ago, the Bush administration accused the Bashir government of genocide for allegedly abetting the atrocities in Darfur. Bush's willingness to meet with Bashir -- who human rights groups say should be charged with war crimes -- is yet another diplomatic gambit by the administration to encourage cooperation from Khartoum.
The conflict broke out in early 2003 when African rebel groups attacked police stations and military outposts. The United Nations and human rights groups accuse the Arab-led central government of supporting militiamen, called the Janjaweed, in an effort to crush the rebellion. About 2,000 villages have been destroyed across Darfur; violence and disease have left as many as 450,000 people dead and 2 million homeless.
Agence France-Presse first reported on the invitation, quoting Bashir spokesman Majoub Fadl Badri.
A State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Frazer carried a letter from Bush to Bashir, which generally discussed Bush's concern about Darfur. She told Bashir that cooperation on Darfur could bring many benefits for Khartoum, though the official declined to specifically confirm them.
Bashir has long pushed for the lifting of economic sanctions related to Sudan's long support of terrorism. The official stressed that any incentives, such as a presidential meeting, would come only after positive actions by Sudan, such as the acceptance of a U.N. force.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Some analysts doubted Bashir would be impressed by the offer.
"President Bush's expression of a willingness to meet with Khartoum's brutal leader inevitably works to confer international legitimacy upon his genocidal regime and policies," said Eric Reeves, a Smith College professor who closely tracks events in Sudan. "But the grim irony here is that this expediency, this moral capitulation, only emboldens the regime, convincing these genocidaires that they hold the upper hand and need not agree to a U.N. force."