Envoy To Sudan On New U.S. Policy

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The new U.S. policy toward Sudan focuses on incentives and disincentives toward ending the violence in the country. Maj. Gen. (retd.) Scott Gration, the U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, says using pressures and incentives are at the heart of diplomacy. He also says accountability and justice must be part of the solution.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And we're joined now by the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, Major General Scott Gration, who is at the State Department today. Welcome to the program.

Mr. SCOTT GRATION (U.S. Special Envoy To Sudan): Thank you very much, Melissa.

BLOCK: I want to talk to you about some of the language that was used today. Ambassador Rice specifically mentioned, in her words, the genocide that is taking place in Darfur - present tense. And I noticed that you didn't use the word genocide at all. Earlier this year you talked about the remnants of genocide in Sudan. And that word obviously carries a lot of freight with it. Does it apply, do you think, to the situation now in Sudan?

Mr. GRATION: Sure. I agree totally with the words that the president has used, the words that Secretary Clinton used and, also, Ambassador Rice. What we have here is a situation that has to be changed. And what we're dedicated is to make sure that the people that are living in dire, in unacceptable conditions that are a result of the conflict of the genocide, that we can change their lives, that we can help create an environment where they can have a better future. Where next generation of Sudanese don't have to endure the loss and the pain and the suffering. And that's what we're dedicated for right now.

BLOCK: And just to be clear, you would say, then, that there is an ongoing genocide in Darfur right now?

Mr. GRATION: I'm saying just exactly the way the president said it.

BLOCK: Well, Secretary Clinton has talked about an ongoing genocide and that you would agree with that?

Mr. GRATION: What I'm saying is that the definitional aspects of it are important and we've discussed those. The administration's position is extremely clear. And right now we have to move forward and change the situation on the ground, so people have a better life.

BLOCK: General Gration, I'd like to ask you about something that you said last month. You were quoted in a profile in The Washington Post talking about the regime in Sudan, and were quoted this way: You said, "We've got to think about giving out cookies - kids, countries, they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement." And you were roundly criticized for that. Can you explain what you meant and how, if it all, it's reflected in the policy that was announced today?

Mr. GRATION: Yes. That statement was grossly taken out of context. In diplomacy, it's very common to use pressures and incentives. In fact, it's at the heart of diplomacy. And this strategy uses incentives and pressures that are based on objective milestones and benchmarks, and we will give out incentives when we see progress going in the right way and when there's backsliding or stalemate. And then we'll have to use the pressures. We will have periodic reviews every quarter, where the deputy's committee will be able to analyze and review what has happened on the ground. And then we'll make a collective judgment on how to proceed.

BLOCK: You said that statement was grossly taken out of context, did you use those words, talking about cookies and gold stars as some of these incentives that you're talking about?

Mr. GRATION: What I said is that incentives and pressures are used in a variety of walks of life, whether they be parents and parenting, whether they be in school, whether they be in the workplace, what we're concentrated in this situation is diplomacy where pressures and incentives are part of how we achieve our national objectives.

BLOCK: At the same time, General Gration, I imagine a critic would say you're not dealing with a recalcitrant child here. You're dealing with a government of a president: President Bashir, who's been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

Mr. GRATION: Of course we understand that. And nobody's ever equated him to a recalcitrant child. What we're saying is that right now we're going to be focused on achieving a peace in Darfur by ending the conflict, the gross human rights abuses. We're going to be fully implementing the comprehensive peace agreement to ensure that the south has an opportunity to express their will in January of 2011 to either be united or become a separate country.

And we're going to do everything we can to ensure that Sudan does not become a haven for terrorists. In fact, is that they become partners in the global effort to get rid off terrorism. At the same time, we understand that there will never be a lasting peace unless accountability and justice are part of the solution.

BLOCK: Accountability and justice, would that include the arrest and trial of President Bashir?

Mr. GRATION: We are encouraging the Sudanese to be responsive to the request of the ICC. At the same time, there's a report coming out from Mbeki and his panel that we'll wait to see what's in there. I know the AU is working on a project and options. We're just going to have to wait and see how all this comes out.

BLOCK: By Mbeki, you're referring to Thabo Mbeki of South Africa?

Mr. GRATION: I am.

BLOCK: General Gration, thank you for talking with us.

Mr. GRATION: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's General Scott Gration. He's the U.S. special envoy to Sudan. He spoke with us from the State Department.

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On Darfur, Obama Offers Carrots, Sticks To Sudan

U.S. Special Envoy J. Scott Gration i

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 hide caption

itoggle caption 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.

Heard On 'All Things Considered'

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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