Bush Breaks Silence on Darfur, Defends Policies

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Advocacy groups have complained for months that the Bush administration hasn't done enough to halt what former Secretary of State Colin Powell described as genocide in Darfur, Sudan. President Bush broke his three-month silence Wednesday and defended his actions there.


Advocacy groups have argued for months that the Bush administration hasn't done enough to stop what the administration itself has called a genocide in Darfur, Sudan. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof was even keeping tabs on how long it's been since President Bush uttered the word `Darfur' publicly. The president broke his more than three-month silence yesterday as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.


After a meeting with his South African counterpart, President Bush defended his administration's actions on Darfur.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: This is a serious situation. As you know, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, with my concurrence, declared the situation a genocide. Our government's put a lot of money to help deal with the human suffering there.

KELEMEN: As he made those comments, the International Crisis Group released a report complaining that US policy has been defined by tough rhetoric followed by half measures. The advocacy group also released a poll that it says shows 80 percent of Americans would support a tougher international response short of sending US troops, but South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, made clear after his talks with President Bush yesterday that Africa should deal with Darfur without the sort of rhetoric Americans have brought to the table.

President THABO MBEKI (South Africa): Let us say you denounce the government of Sudan as genocidal, what next? We're looking for a solution to the problem and the solution doesn't lie in making radical statements, not for us as Africans.

KELEMEN: He said the solution is to mobilize others to contribute to the African Union effort. The AU has about 2,300 troops and military observers in the region the size of France. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who was also in Washington this week, told NPR he's ready to respond to AU appeals for logistical support.

Secretary-General JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (NATO): Think about airlifting troops into Darfur. The African Union wants to augment, increase its strength in Darfur and it's very necessary indeed. Think about assistance in command and control, but the bottom line is and the red line we should not cross is that this is a mission run by the African Union and NATO is doing nothing than answering the requests by the African Union for logistical support.

KELEMEN: Advocacy groups say the AU monitors need a tougher mandate to protect civilians from militia attacks and they've called for a no-fly zone to prevent Sudanese air raids against villages in Darfur. The NATO secretary-general said that's something the United Nations Security Council should decide and the council has been deeply divided.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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