Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin has canceled a trip next month to war-ravaged Sudan, one of the most unstable nations in the world and the focus of passionate advocacy within the U.S. evangelical community.
Palin scrapped her visit to the North African country for scheduling reasons, several sources close to her said. She was planning to travel with Franklin Graham, the son of evangelical leader Billy Graham, as well as Fox News personality Greta Van Susteren, to the July 9 independence ceremony of South Sudan, the sources said. Van Susteren also canceled her trip. Graham said on Wednesday that he still plans to go.
Palin’s decision comes at a time when speculation is mounting about whether she will seek the Republican presidential nomination. Her weeks-long silence since the end of her One Nation bus tour along the East Coast has prompted a raft of questions about whether there will be a second or third leg, as advisers initially said there would be, through the Midwest and the South.
Palin weighed in on the debate via Twitter on Wednesday, tweeting “I did?” in response to several headlines reporting that she had canceled the tour.
Late Wednesday, she posted on her Facebook page that she had been called for jury duty and suggested that was one reason why the second leg of her bus tour hadn’t occurred.
A Palin spokesman, Tim Crawford, declined to comment on any of her travel plans, whether to Sudan or across the United States.
In the meantime, Palin is in Alaska enjoying what she has described on her reality TV show, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” as her family’s favorite time of year. This is when the Palins typically travel north for an annual salmon fishing trip to Bristol Bay.
Palin advisers said during the bus tour that one purpose of it was to give her family a chance to experience the sacrifice that comes with life on the road — and to decide whether it is something they could deal with.
Palin first told a London newspaper of the Sudan trip early this month. Graham, who heads the international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, said he spoke to Palin about traveling with her to Sudan several years ago, while she was still governor. The trip didn’t work out because of a special legislative session that kept Palin in Juneau, he said.
Graham said he spoke with Palin last week, when she told him that other obligations prevented her from making the trip. She told him that her commitment to visiting Sudan is as strong as ever but that the timing for this trip simply didn’t work.
“She tried very hard to make it work,” he said in an interview.
“She would be a very good person to help draw attention to the plight of the Christians in South Sudan,” said Graham, who has traveled to Haiti with Palin. “We’ve got George Clooney, we’ve got some Hollywood-type people. I’m very grateful for what Mr. Clooney has done. But we need everybody we can find.”
One U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of Palin’s potential political aspirations, said the former governor had gotten so far in the planning process as to secure permission from the government of South Sudan to attend the independence ceremony.
The official said one challenge of the trip was security. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is also tentatively scheduled to attend the ceremony, may not make the trip because of safety concerns.
Sudan has been the setting of one of the gravest humanitarian crises of the past generation. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the ruler of Sudan’s military government, has been indicted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court. Despite the planned secession of the southern third of the nation, clashes between northern and southern forces continue along the border.
“There is a genocide taking place,” said Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), an advocate for more U.S. involvement in Sudan. “The more people [who travel to Sudan] from the West, from the United States, the better. I’ve been urging different people to go. We have a museum on the Mall, the Holocaust Museum. It says, ‘Never again.’ What doesn’t the West understand about this? If this was taking place in the south of France, do you think we’d let it go on?”
Palin’s travel plans had attracted criticism from detractors who accused her of capitalizing on the issue. She is popular among evangelical Christians, many of whom have provided aid for Sudan, not only because of the breadth of the humanitarian crisis but also because of the persecution of Christians there.
“Churches were burned,” Graham said. “Pastors were nailed to trees. We have been able to identify 1,000 churches destroyed.”
Research editor Alice Crites and staff writers Joby Warrick and Philip Rucker contributed to this report.