In Shift for Obama, U.S. Settles On Modulated Policy for Sudan

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, the special envoy to Sudan, had repeatedly called for easing U.S. sanctions on the Khartoum regime.
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, the special envoy to Sudan, had repeatedly called for easing U.S. sanctions on the Khartoum regime. (By Miguel Juárez For The Washington Post)

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By Colum Lynch and Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 17, 2009

After lengthy debate, the Obama administration has settled on a policy toward Sudan that offers a dramatically softer approach than the president had advocated on the campaign trail -- but steers clear of the conciliatory tone advocated by his special envoy to the country.

The new U.S. policy, which will be formally unveiled Monday, calls for a campaign of "pressure and incentives" to cajole the government in Khartoum into pursuing peace in the troubled Darfur region, settling disputes with the autonomous government in southern Sudan and providing the United States greater cooperation in stemming international terrorism, according to administration officials briefed on the plan. It also provides Khartoum with a path to improved relations with the United States if it begins to address long-standing U.S. concerns.

The public rollout of the policy brings an end to months of contentious internal debate on how to confront a government headed by an indicted war crimes suspect, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, and blamed in the deaths of more than 300,000 people in Darfur, according to U.N. estimates.

In what is intended as a show of unity for the new policy, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will announce it at the State Department with President Obama's special envoy to Sudan, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration. Rice and Gration had battled fiercely over the direction of the new policy, with Rice pressing for a tougher line and Gration calling for easing U.S. sanctions.

In an interview last month with The Washington Post, Gration said he wanted to give "cookies" and "gold stars" to Khartoum, infuriating human rights advocates and congressional officials. Under the new policy, Gration will not be authorized to negotiate directly with Bashir, and Sudan will not be removed from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism in the immediate future, officials said.

The administration officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the policy ahead of Monday's announcement.

The review also addresses a long-standing dispute between Rice, who has argued that there is an "ongoing genocide" in Darfur, and Gration over how to characterize the violence in Darfur. From now on, the United States will maintain that genocide "is taking place" in Darfur, officials said. The agreement on genocide represents a setback for Gration, who argued publicly in June that Sudan is no longer engaged in a campaign of mass murder in that region. "What we see is the remnants of genocide," he told reporters.

But the administration's policy also marks a significant evolution for the president and close aides such as Rice. During last year's campaign, Obama and his top advisers had advocated a more confrontational approach to Sudan -- including tougher sanctions and the establishment of a no-fly zone that would prevent Sudanese fighter jets from bombing Darfurian villages. "There must be real pressure placed on the Sudanese government," Obama said last year. "We know from past experience that it will take a great deal to get them to do the right thing."

For her part, Rice last year accused the Bush administration of offering "the regime major concessions in exchange for minor steps."

Clinton is expected to frame the evolving U.S. strategy toward Sudan as part of the broader effort to engage America's traditional enemies to achieve U.S. political goals. American officials said that although the United States is not planning to detail possible rewards or penalties, many such ideas are on the table, including tightening U.N. sanctions and removing Khartoum from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Indeed, the overall U.S. approach builds on an engagement strategy that Gration has been pursuing independently for months, which has placed more emphasis on the prospects for improved relations with the United States if Khartoum pursues peace. The policy toward Bashir's government would be one of "verify, then trust," one official said.

Buoyed by booming oil wealth and a close relationship with China, Sudan has shrugged off repeated threats of action by the United States and other major powers. The new U.S. policy has three overarching goals: to end mass killings and other human rights abuses in Darfur, assure the success of a 2005 peace accord between the mostly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south, and prevent Sudan from being used as a terrorist haven.


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