U.S envoy to Sudan says Bashir indictment will make his job harder

The White House has been trying to work with Sudan's government without directly engaging President Omar al-Bashir, above.
The White House has been trying to work with Sudan's government without directly engaging President Omar al-Bashir, above. (Ashraf Shazly/afp/getty Images)
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Thursday, July 22, 2010

U.S. envoy to Sudan criticizes ICC indictment

As Sudan speeds toward a January referendum that could lead to the splitting of the country, President Obama's special envoy is complaining that his job has been made more difficult by new charges leveled against the Sudanese president.

Last week, the International Criminal Court issued a second arrest warrant for Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, this time on three counts of genocide. In March 2009, the ICC had indicted Bashir on five counts of crimes against humanity.

The Obama administration has always said that war criminals should be brought to justice, but at the same time it is pursuing a policy of engagement with Bashir's government while avoiding direct contact with the Sudanese leader himself. After the ICC's most recent decision, Obama said he was "fully supportive" of the court.

But the president's point man on Sudan, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, said last week that the new charges will have a damaging effect on his ability to work with Bashir's government. Speaking at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, he expressed dissatisfaction with the ICC's latest move.

The decision "will make my mission more difficult and challenging, especially if we realize that resolving the crisis in Darfur and [the] south, issues of oil, and combating terrorism at 100 percent, we need Bashir," Gration was quoted as saying by Radio Sawa, an Arabic-language radio station run by the U.S. government.

"Also [regarding] the issues of citizenship and referendum, the north holds a lot of influence, so this is really tough. How will I carry out my duties in this environment?" he reportedly asked.

It's not the first time Gration has gone off message since he became special envoy. He once likened the administration's engagement policy toward Khartoum to giving out cookies and gold stars to children.

Last June, ABC News reported that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice was "furious" when Gration said that Darfur was experiencing only the "remnants of genocide." The State Department quickly confirmed that its official position is that genocide is ongoing.

White House officials have been trying to make it clear that they support the ICC's action, regardless of Gration's complaints.

Senator joins call to oust IG for Afghan rebuilding

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) on Wednesday became the second senator to call for the ouster of Arnold Fields, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, whose office received a failing grade in a new report on its investigations into the use of billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer funds.

"The recent findings of the independent review of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) are appalling and confirm that there is clearly a lack of competent senior leadership in this agency," Coburn said in a statement. "Fraud, corruption and wasted resources are placing our soldiers and the mission in Afghanistan in danger."

Earlier this week, the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, which serves as an oversight board of all inspectors general in the U.S. government, issued a scathing report on the work of SIGAR, which came after months of congressional angst over what certain lawmakers see as the organization's shoddy work.

Coburn had requested the review, along with Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). McCaskill called for Fields to be fired on the day the report was issued.

Her first tour was pretty tough, too

Maura Connelly, the president's nominee for ambassador to Lebanon, has taken a long journey in her career as a Foreign Service officer. Her tours have included Algeria, Damascus, Jerusalem, Jordan, London, South Africa, and Washington, where she now serves as deputy assistant secretary in the bureau of Near Eastern affairs.

At her confirmation hearing Tuesday, we learned that her career in government service began when she was a Senate page during high school; she then worked as an elevator operator in the Capitol building while an undergrad at Georgetown.

But Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) highlighted her childhood experience in the rough-and-tumble suburbs of northern New Jersey as another asset she can bring to bear when she gets to Beirut.

"Anyone who was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, could probably do very well in Lebanon,? Menendez said.

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