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U.S. Pushes Sudan to Readmit Aid Groups

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 7, 2009

UNITED NATIONS, March 6 -- The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations demanded Friday that Sudan reverse its "callous" decision to expel foreign aid workers from Darfur, saying it endangers the lives of millions and threatens to damage Khartoum's relations with the rest of the world.

But the effort by Susan E. Rice to pressure Sudan ran into stiff opposition from China, which blocked the adoption of a draft Security Council statement demanding that the relief workers be allowed to return to Darfur.

The standoff in the council underscored the challenges the Obama administration faces in rallying international backing for a tougher line on Sudan. It also highlighted Sudan's initial success in rallying allies to stand beside it following the issuance of an arrest warrant against the country's leader, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, by the International Criminal Court. It charges him with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

The African Union and the Arab League agreed Friday to send a high-level delegation before the Security Council this month to urge suspension of the arrest warrant. And China cited the warrant in resisting the Security Council statement, insisting that the statement blame the international court for provoking the crisis.

Rice detailed U.S. demands in a "forceful conversation" Friday morning with Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad. "The United States is gravely concerned by the reckless decision of the Sudanese government," Rice told reporters after the meeting. Rice said that her Sudanese counterpart told her that U.N. relief agencies and others could easily "pick up the slack and that his government will do its part to protect its civilians. I noted that that was hardly a credible proposition in light of the last five years' history."

Mohamad, meanwhile, accused the aid agencies of violating the terms of their humanitarian mandate in Darfur by passing on evidence of alleged war crimes to international prosecutors. He told Rice that if the United States wanted to help relieve those suffering in Darfur, it should support the agencies that remain in the region. "Threats are unacceptable," he said.

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