U.S. Diplomat Urges Revised Sudan Policy

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 31, 2009

President Obama's top Sudan envoy said Thursday that there was no basis for keeping Sudan on the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism and that it was only a matter of time before the United States would have to "unwind" economic sanctions against the Khartoum government.

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration's remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee represented the most forceful critique yet by a U.S. official of the long-standing American effort to put economic and political pressure on Sudan's Islamic government. Sudan, which has harbored members of al-Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, was designated a terrorism sponsor in 1993.

Gration's comments Thursday raised concerns among activists and Sudan's critics in Congress that the administration is offering to reward Sudan without securing assurances that the government will take steps to end conflict in the Darfur region and in the south.

The president's national security advisers have been locked in dispute over the right mix of rewards and penalties to persuade the Khartoum government to pursue peace in those regions. Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been pressing for a tougher approach, citing Khartoum's history of violating agreements.

The interagency feud became public last month, when Gration told reporters that Sudan's government was no longer engaging in a "coordinated" campaign of mass murder against Darfurian civilians. Two days earlier, Rice had said that Sudan was engaged in a campaign of genocide in Darfur.

"There is a significant difference between what happened in 2003, which we characterized as genocide, and what is happening today," Gration said Thursday.

Gration came under fire from human rights activists, who accused him of saying too little to the committee about the brutality of the Sudanese government, whose leader, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, stands accused of war crimes in Darfur.

Also Thursday, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, in partnership with Google Earth, released a State Department analysis of U.S. satellite imagery showing that more than 3,300 Darfurian villages were damaged or destroyed between 2003 and 2005, more than twice previous estimates. The images also showed that most of the destruction in Darfur occurred before 2006, with only a small number of villages apparently destroyed since then.

Gration told the Senate committee that the administration would "roll out" a new, comprehensive strategy on Darfur in the next few weeks that would include "both incentives and pressure" for Khartoum. The administration's priorities, he said, include negotiating a durable political solution in Darfur and averting a collapse of a U.S.-brokered 2005 peace accord ending a war between Khartoum and southern-backed rebels.

But Gration hinted at the tensions over strategy, noting that the State Department had rejected a proposal to fund more U.S. diplomats or private contractors to help support American mediation efforts in Sudan. He said he would raise the issue at a higher level.

Gration said U.S. economic sanctions had undermined American efforts to help implement the 2005 accord, barring the delivery of heavy equipment needed for road and rail projects in southern Sudan. He said the provision of such assistance would be vital in ensuring that southerners can establish a viable government if, as expected, they vote to secede from Sudan in a 2011 referendum.

"We're going to have to unwind some of these sanctions so that we can do the very things we need to do to ensure a peaceful transition to a state that is viable in the south, if they choose to do that," he said.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company