Bush Looks To Intensify Pressure On Sudan

By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 29, 2007

President Bush has decided to implement a plan to pressure Sudan's government into cooperating with international efforts to halt the violence in its troubled Darfur region, where his administration said almost three years ago that genocide was taking place.

Administration officials said yesterday that the Treasury Department will step up efforts to squeeze the Sudanese economy by targeting government-run ventures involved with its booming oil business, which does many of its transactions in U.S. dollars. Bush will sanction two senior Sudanese officials and a rebel leader, who are suspected of being involved in the violence in Darfur.

The United States will also seek new U.N. Security Council sanctions against Khartoum, as well as a provision preventing the Sudanese government from conducting military flights in Darfur. The United Nations has accused Sudan's government of bombing Darfur villages.

Bush has been considering such steps for months and was set to announce the plan last month at the U.S. Memorial Holocaust Museum. But he held off at the behest of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who pleaded for more time to conduct diplomacy with Sudan's president, Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, toward allowing international peacekeepers into the country.

But Bush sees little evidence that the diplomacy is bearing fruit or that Bashir is proving more cooperative in helping halt the violence in Darfur, aides said. As a result, they said, Bush plans to announce the coercive measures this morning at the White House.

"We just haven't seen any movement on the part of the government," said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to upstage the president. The official said Sudanese officials are continuing a long pattern of seeming to promise cooperation while "obstructing" progress in curbing the violence.

Administration officials said Bashir and other senior Sudanese officials have continued to thwart efforts at cooperation even after Bush explicitly warned them of the consequences. The day after Bush's speech at the Holocaust Museum, they said, the government bombed a rebel camp, and officials have continued to give speeches rejecting the full complement of peacekeepers.

The timing of today's announcement appears certain to anger U.N. diplomats, who have been reporting progress in negotiations with Bashir and have been aggressively lobbying U.S. officials to delay sanctions. Sudan's official news agency reported Saturday that Ban has agreed to travel to Khartoum to negotiate a deal on a United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur.

U.S. lawmakers and advocacy groups, meanwhile, have criticized the Bush administration for a tepid response to Darfur despite tough rhetoric from the president, and it was uncertain last night whether they would welcome the long-awaited implementation of what has come to be known as "Plan B" for the region. Religious and humanitarian groups, which have pressed states, universities and corporations to disinvest from Sudan, have criticized as insufficient the elements of Plan B.

Bush has been under intense pressure from these groups to do something about the violence in Darfur, which began in 2003 when government-sponsored Arab militias attacked African villages in an effort to quell a rebellion. Eventually, about 2,000 villages were burned, as many as 450,000 people were killed and more than 2.5 million were displaced in continuing violence. The United States labeled it a "genocide" in 2004.

Under the new sanction plan to be announced today, 30 companies owned or controlled by the Sudanese government will be added to the 130 already blocked from using the U.S. financial system. The senior administration official said that the U.S. government has devoted considerable resources in the past six months toward figuring out how to bring greater financial pressure on Sudan, and he noted that with today's announcement most of the joint ventures responsible for oil production will be under sanctions.

"I am very optimistic that we will be able to put on more pressure than we have previously," the official said.

Although the United States has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid and has led calls for action on Darfur, it has been ineffective in marshaling an international response that would bring a lasting peace or provide adequate security to the people of the region, one of Africa's poorest and most remote areas.

The Bush administration helped broker a peace deal a year ago that was supposed to have led to the introduction of thousands of additional peacekeepers. But the deal is in shambles and few troops have been added beyond an overwhelmed 7,000-member force from the African Union.

Part of the problem facing the United States is that it has already imposed strict sanctions on Sudan -- dating to 1997, when Khartoum was targeted for its support of Osama bin Laden. So it is unclear how much more leverage the Bush administration will have without backing from other nations.

China, in particular, has extensive commercial interests in Sudan and has been skeptical of sanctions. Administration officials said they think that Beijing is starting to be more helpful, such as leaning on the Sudanese to allow the African Union force to be better-equipped.

Advocacy groups are trying to shame China by threatening a boycott of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The senior administration official said he could not forecast how China and other members of the Security Council will react to the new U.S. initiative.

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