U.S. Tweaks Sudan Policy To Offer Incentives

The Obama administration has unveiled what it calls a calibrated and comprehensive strategy to deal with the conflicts in Sudan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the new menu of what she called "incentives and disincentives," but did not specify what the punitive measures might be.

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And I'm Michele Norris in Washington D.C.

At the State Department today, the Obama administration announced a new approach to dealing with conflicts in Sudan. U.S. officials have debated for months about how to help end the genocide in Darfur and keep Sudan's fragile north-south peace deal from collapsing.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was joined by U.N. ambassador Susan Rice and Scott Gration, the administration's envoy to Sudan, as they announced what they called a calibrated and comprehensive strategy. On Darfur, the secretary said that the intensity of the violence has decreased, but there are still millions of people in need.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): Our focus is on reversing the ongoing, dire human consequences of genocide by addressing the daily suffering in the refugee camps, protecting civilians from continuing violence, helping displaced persons return to their homes, ensuring that the militias are disarmed and improving conditions on the ground so that the people of Darfur can finally live in peace and security.

KELEMEN: The administration is also putting renewed emphasis on the north-south peace process mainly because of an unforgiving calendar. Next year, Sudan has elections, and in 2011, southerners are to vote in a referendum to decide whether they remain part of Sudan. Clinton says the U.S. will use a mixture of diplomatic tools to keep this on track.

Sec. CLINTON: We have a menu of incentives and disincentives, political and economic, that we will be looking to to either further progress or to create a clear message that the progress we expect is not occurring.

KELEMEN: U.S. officials will talk to authorities in Khartoum about all of this, but there's one person they still plan to avoid: Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur. Administration officials have also made clear that they won't take Sudan off a terrorism blacklist unless there are improvements on the ground. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said all parties will have benchmarks to meet.

Ms. SUSAN RICE (U.S. Ambassador to U.N.): There will be no rewards for the status quo, no incentives without concrete and tangible progress.

KELEMEN: The tough talk at today's news conference was welcomed by activists, including John Prendergast of the Enough project, who had complained that the Obama administration's envoy seemed to bent on giving Khartoum cookies and gold stars for good behavior.

Mr. JOHN PRENDERGAST (Activist, Enough Project): This moves away from where the U.S. was going with its policy of appeasement that we feared the special envoy was pursuing to one of principled and conditional engagement. I think it's a very strong statement in that regard, and it's the correct one.

KELEMEN: So far the policy doesn't look much different from that of the Bush administration's. Jerry Fowler of the Save Darfur Coalition says he'll be watching closely to see how much President Obama does to follow up.

Mr. JERRY FOWLER (President, Save Darfur Coalition): First and foremost, I think that means his engaging with key heads of state. For example, when he goes to China next month, making this an issue on the agenda with President Hu Jintao.

KELEMEN: Because if the U.S. wants real pressure, then getting Sudan's big business partners like China onboard will be key.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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On Darfur, Obama Offers Carrots, Sticks To Sudan

U.S. Special Envoy J. Scott Gration i i

hide captionScott Gration, the Obama administration's special envoy to Sudan, tells NPR that the new U.S. policy on Sudan is "based on positive, verifiable things we can see on the ground."

Abd Raouf/AP
U.S. Special Envoy J. Scott Gration

Scott Gration, the Obama administration's special envoy to Sudan, tells NPR that the new U.S. policy on Sudan is "based on positive, verifiable things we can see on the ground."

Abd Raouf/AP

The Obama administration's new Sudan strategy signals an interest in reaching out to a regime that Washington has mostly tried to isolate during the past six years of conflict in the ravaged Darfur region of western Sudan.

But in announcing the strategy on Monday, Obama used the term "genocide" to refer to the violence in Sudan and said that he would renew tough U.S. sanctions on Khartoum.

"If the government of Sudan acts to improve the situation on the ground and to advance peace, there will be incentives," Obama said. "If it does not, then there will be increased pressure imposed by the United States and the international community."

The results of the seven-month policy review suggest that the Obama administration is trying to change the dynamic in one of Africa's largest man-made humanitarian disasters by walking a fine line between engagement and punishment.

The Darfur conflict has been going on for six years, and United Nations estimates suggest that as many as 300,000 people have died and some 2.7 million more have been driven from their homes there. The fighting began when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government in 2003.

U.S. officials declined to specify what kinds of incentives or additional sanctions might be on the table, but said they plan to regularly evaluate whether or not the Sudanese government is taking concrete steps toward ending the conflict in Darfur and to fight terrorism.

"This new strategy is not based on words," Obama's special envoy for Sudan, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration told NPR in an interview on All Things Considered on Monday. "It's not based on agreements. It's based on positive, verifiable things we can see on the ground."

The Obama administration also wants Sudan to fully implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended a two-decade civil war between north and south Sudan. The deal calls for a crucial referendum in 2011 in which southern Sudan will vote on the possibility of secession.

Many human rights activists, who were worried that the Obama administration might be too conciliatory toward the government of Sudan, cautiously welcomed the new direction.

"There is an incredible disappointment on the part of those that expected the administration to come out from the early days and set a new tone," says John Prendergast, a Sudan expert who co-founded Enough, an anti-genocide activist group. "What this policy statement does is get us heading back in the right direction."

In a particularly significant shift from the Bush administration, the new Obama strategy makes it clear that cooperation on counterterrorism efforts by itself is not enough.

"It must be clear to all parties that Sudanese support for counterterrorism objectives is valued, but cannot be used as a bargaining chip to evade responsibilities in Darfur or in implementing the CPA," says a new strategy document released by the State Department.

The Sudanese government tentatively welcomed the new strategic direction, with one official telling reporters in Khartoum that there are "positive points." The official welcomed a policy of engagement, but said that it was "unfortunate" that the Obama administration continues to use the word "genocide" to refer to events in Darfur.

One of the thorniest issues for the Obama administration is the question of war crimes, and particularly the status of Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court in March for war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has denied all charges, but remains in power.

Some activists had feared that Gration would push for a softer line on Bashir in order to make progress on other issues. But the new policy does not appear to make any concession on Bashir's status.

"We must have accountability and justice as part of the solution," Gration told NPR. "We understand that is the only way we can get a lasting peace."

The shift on Sudan is also significant for what it says about Obama's interest in issues on the African continent. When he came into office, there was intense speculation that as the first African-American president, Obama would place a new emphasis on Africa, but other issues have dominated the first eight months of his presidency.

Many activists are watching to see whether Obama will now take an active role in Sudan diplomacy.

"We need to see substantial personal involvement from President Obama," says Jerry Fowler, president of the activist group Save Darfur. "His presidency is the game-changer here. His ability to influence is the game-changer here."

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