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Former Reagan Aide Robert McFarlane's Dealings With Sudan Raise Questions

"Both General Jones and U.S. Special Envoy Gration have had conversations with Mr. McFarlane about the urgent need to improve the security situation in Sudan and the need for development in southern Sudan," Vietor said. "However, it is inaccurate to characterize those conversations as having been about Mr. McFarlane seeking, or General Jones or U.S. Special Envoy Gration providing, approval for Mr. McFarlane's efforts."

Neither McFarlane nor his firm, McFarlane Associates, in Arlington, has registered as a lobbyist or foreign agent on behalf of Qatar or Sudan, or received permission from the State Department to do business with Sudan.

Several legal experts said that while this is a gray area, the situation appears to fall under the requirements of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires anyone acting on behalf of a foreign power to file disclosures with the Justice Department. "Once you start talking to U.S. officials, that's what normally would trigger the obligation to register," said Joseph E. Sandler, a prominent Democratic lawyer and FARA expert.

McFarlane said his lawyers concluded that registration was not necessary for the Qatari contract.

Ghazi Salahuddin, a close Bashir adviser and negotiator for the ruling National Congress Party, said during a recent interview in Khartoum that McFarlane is not working for his government. But he acknowledged that the former Reagan aide had talked with Mohammed H. Babiker, whom he described as a "government official" previously involved in high-profile border talks with southern Sudan.

"Any allusion to the possibility would be misguided," Salahuddin said, referring to McFarlane working for the National Congress Party. "It would be damaging to his reputation. And in the first place, it's not right."

Sudan is still reeling from a bloody 21-year civil war between the Muslim-dominated north and the mostly Christian and animist south, which is set to vote on independence in 2011. In a separate conflict in the western region of Darfur, millions have been displaced amid massacres by Khartoum-backed militias and continued fighting among rebel tribes.

John Prendergast, a former aide to President Bill Clinton and a prominent Darfur expert, said McFarlane's nebulous role disrupted peace talks in Ethiopia this summer, when, he said, one tribal leader backed by McFarlane asked for $6 million in funding from Gration's office. He said the proposal caused an angry uproar among other Darfur leaders and nearly derailed the summit.

"When a paid consultant engages directly in the process in support of one of the belligerents, with real question marks about whose agenda is being served, that can be destabilizing," said Prendergast, who serves as co-chair of the Enough Project, an anti-genocide group.

Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, said McFarlane's activities are an example of the Bashir regime's "no-holds-barred PR strategy."

"This apparent relationship with McFarlane just shows the extent to which they will go to try to buy influence, especially with the United States," he said.

McFarlane was a top foreign policy and national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan until being waylaid by allegations of wrongdoing in the Iran-contra affair. He pleaded guilty in 1988 to misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress but was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. He served as an adviser last year to the GOP presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

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