By Michael Abramowitz and Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 19, 2007
President Bush unveiled a new package of sanctions against Sudan yesterday for failing to cooperate with international efforts to end what he described as the "genocide" in the Darfur region -- but promptly postponed it to give the U.N. secretary general time to pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
Until Tuesday night, the White House had been planning to use the speech to impose a "Plan B" for Sudan, a long-anticipated plan that includes new financial sanctions targeting 29 companies owned or controlled by the Sudanese government, as well as three people involved in fomenting violence in Darfur. Bush and his aides have been increasingly frustrated by their inability to prod Sudan to cooperate in efforts to end the humanitarian crisis in the troubled region, where as many as 450,000 people have died and more than 2 million have been made homeless after attacks from government-sponsored militias.
But the administration plan was upended by a last-minute plea Tuesday from Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, requesting more time to work out a diplomatic solution with Sudan's president, Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Ban bluntly told Rice that now is not the time to be enforcing new sanctions on Sudan, said U.S. and U.N. sources familiar with the conversation.
Although his aides seemed skeptical that the U.N. initiative would bear fruit, Bush said in a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum that he decided to allow Ban "more time to pursue his diplomacy." But the president made clear that his patience is running thin and warned Bashir that he would soon put a new plan in place -- possibly including efforts to prevent Sudan from flying military airplanes over Darfur -- if Bashir does not end support for the militias, allow more peacekeepers in and take other steps.
"The brutal treatment of innocent civilians in Darfur is unacceptable," Bush told a receptive audience that included Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel and other Holocaust survivors. "The status quo must not continue."
Bush's speech, timed for the week in which the country commemorates the Holocaust, was his most extensive discussion of the conflict in Darfur in nearly a year. It came while the president faces increasing pressure from lawmakers and humanitarian groups to deliver on promises to press Bashir to end his conflict with the rebels in Darfur and alleviate the suffering.
Though lawmakers and advocacy groups welcomed elements of the proposed Plan B, they also described the president's willingness to give Bashir yet more time -- only "weeks," according to a State Department spokesman -- as an illustration of a tepid response to the crisis.
"The Darfur conflict is not about the partial deployment of troops. It is about ending the genocide, respecting the rule of law, accountability and allowing people to return to their homes," said Ted Dagne, an Africa specialist at the Congressional Research Service. "We have declared genocide, but we have not addressed the root causes of the conflict and how to end it. In Rwanda, one million were killed in 90 days; yet in Darfur, it is four years and still counting."
But supporters of the president said they were impressed that Bush has finally laid out a concrete plan after months of internal debate at the White House. They said he has now set a clear marker against which his administration can be judged.
Wiesel said in an interview that he is convinced that Bush's announcement yesterday "will have an impact, first of all on the world itself, now that the United States is engaged totally" on Darfur.
"I'm a Jew who believes in daily miracles, and when such a miracle occurs, rather than saying, 'Why so late?' I am thankful that it is done," Wiesel said.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), among the handful of lawmakers pressing the administration on Darfur, said he could live with a few more weeks to see if Bashir is willing to cooperate. "I know the president cares very deeply about this," Wolf said, although he noted that he thinks the administration's Plan B "could be a little more aggressive."
Administration officials said they are skeptical of Bashir's intentions, citing the endless haggling over a peacekeeping force for Darfur that is supposed to eventually include more than 20,000 U.N. and African Union soldiers and police officers. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte called Bush from Khartoum on Tuesday and reported that Bashir was defiant and showed little indication that he would be accommodating, officials said.
Bush had already made the key decisions over the past week, accepting most of the recommendations of his advisers after rejecting a package that he viewed as too weak, administration officials said. But then, on Tuesday, Ban called Rice and made what U.S. officials described as a personal and emotional plea for a delay.
Ban noted that Bashir's agreement this week to allow an initial deployment of 3,000 peacekeepers was his first diplomatic achievement as U.N. secretary general and that it had been greeted favorably by other nations, so a U.S. move to impose sanctions now would undercut that accomplishment. He also said that Bashir is convinced that the United States is acting in bad faith, so any move by the administration would simply reinforce his belief that the international community cannot be trusted, sources said.
Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.