Darfur Advocates, Rep. Wolf Intensify Pressure on Obama

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 15, 2009

Human rights groups and lawmakers are ratcheting up pressure on the Obama administration this week over its approach to ending violence in Sudan, saying the White House and the State Department are treading too cautiously in dealing with the government in Khartoum.

A coalition of U.S.-based advocates focused on the Darfur region -- where they say genocide is still being committed by the Sudanese government -- sent a letter to President Obama on Monday demanding the replacement of retired Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration as special envoy to Sudan, arguing that his attempt to engage with the country's rulers "is wrong and deadly."

"The good-intentioned yet soft approach of the General towards the Government of Sudan is abused and exploited by a regime that has continued to rule Sudan with fire and blood throughout the last twenty years," read the letter from nine groups, including the Darfur Reconciliation and Development Organization, and several individuals.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in response, "The President is extremely grateful for the work General Gration has done thus far, and for all the work he'll do on this critical issue in the future."

In a separate letter to be released Thursday, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), a member of the House Sudan caucus who has long been critical of the Khartoum regime, calls on Obama to personally intervene to ensure that no U.S. lobbying firm is allowed to represent the country. The Washington Post reported last week that Robert B. Crowe, a fundraiser for Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), is attempting to secure U.S. approval for a lobbying contract with Khartoum.

"I urge you to personally engage on the issue of Sudan," Wolf writes to Obama. "You've rightly noted that 'silence, acquiescence and paralysis in the face of genocide is wrong,' and you've advocated for 'real pressures [to] be placed on the Sudanese government.' I wholeheartedly support these sentiments, but sentiments absent action ring hollow."

The sharply worded criticisms come as the Obama administration prepares to release a long-awaited policy on Sudan, which has been torn apart by a two-decade civil war and by government-backed massacres in the western region of Darfur that have killed more than 300,000 people and displaced millions.

Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes in Darfur. His government has embarked on an effort this year to persuade the United States to ease sanctions against Sudan, seeking to hire a lobbyist and helping to negotiate a $1.3 million consulting contract between Qatar and former Reagan aide Robert "Bud" McFarlane, records show.

The letters to Obama this week are the latest in a series of demands for a harder U.S. line on Khartoum. Salva Kiir Mayardit, the president of semiautonomous southern Sudan, wrote to Obama last month, saying that Bashir continues to foment violence in the region, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Post.

"There has not been any transformation or reform at the center," Mayardit wrote, referring to Khartoum. "The status quo prevails. . . . Significant change in policy in relation to Sudan should only come when there is change in the reality of Sudan."

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