Lawmakers Criticize Bush Administration on Sudan
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, are criticizing the Bush administration for softening its position on Sudan. Sudan was once blasted as a terrorist safe haven, and the US hasn't had an ambassador there since 1998. The US has described the conflict in the western Sudan area of Darfur as a genocide, but some of Khartoum--that's the capital of Sudan--Khartoum's strongest critics in Washington say that the US pressure is easing and getting closer to normal relations. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:
In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, 105 members of the House said they're troubled by US policy on Sudan. The letter, dated last week, says the Bush administration appears to be acting conciliatory at a time when the violence in Darfur grows worse and the plight of its victims more terrible. On the Senate side, Kansas Republican Sam Brownback was among 27 senators to write to President Bush to raise concerns about Darfur. Brownback sees signs of appeasement.
Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican Kansas): And I don't think there should be an appeasement that takes place. And the root of this is the Sudanese government. We shouldn't be sending signals that we're accepting them internationally.
KELEMEN: The new assistant secretary of State for Africa, Jendayi Frazier, was up on Capitol Hill this weekend defending US policy. At a House subcommittee hearing, she tried to allay concerns that the Bush administration sent a top diplomat, Cameron Hume, to Sudan last month, not as an accredited ambassador but as a high-profile charge.
Assistant Secretary JENDAYI FRAZIER (US State Department): What we wanted was a senior diplomat who could pursue US interests, and he has the expertise across the board. Our sending him there was in the US' interests. It was in no way a signal of a normalization of relations.
KELEMEN: She insisted the US is keeping up the pressure on Sudan. But members of Congress see otherwise. The Bush administration recently moved Sudan off the list of the worst offenders of human trafficking, and the State Department eased some sanctions to allow Sudan to hire a lobbyist in Washington. Frazier tried to downplay that move.
Sec. FRAZIER: One lobby can't change the administration's approach to Sudan. We think that this is a regime that needs fundamental transformation. That's been our approach from day one.
KELEMEN: On paper, the regime has changed. A new government of national unity is in place after many years of peace talks to end a half century of fighting between the Islamic government in Khartoum and rebels in the south. But there are concerns that the president's National Congress party is dragging its feet on implementing the north-south deal and is still throwing up obstacles to aid workers in the separate conflict in Darfur. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick plans to work through these issues when he goes to Sudan next week. Congressman Donald Payne, a New Jersey Democrat, says he's flabbergasted by this approach.
Representative DONALD PAYNE (Democrat, New Jersey): We say the right things, but then on the other hand, it seems like we concede and we finesse this government of Sudan. We don't have to do that. We're the most powerful nation in the world. We don't have to play around with Sudan. There is no excuse for it. It's disgraceful. It absolutely makes no sense.
KELEMEN: Part of the policy dilemma for the Bush administration is the fact that it was the one to describe Darfur as a genocide, so any dealings with Sudanese government officials involved in Darfur are now under close scrutiny. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is among those calling on the Bush administration to keep Darfur high on the agenda and not repeat the US inaction on another genocide, that in Rwanda.
Ms. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT (Former Secretary, US State Department): People are very critical of what happened in Rwanda. President Clinton and I have many times said how much we regret what happened. And that was volcanic genocide. This is rolling genocide. And I don't see why we think that we should not continue to pay attention to it and make our point very clear to the Sudanese government that this is unacceptable.
KELEMEN: One practical area where she and others say the US could do a better job is to work to expand the mandate and size of a small African Union monitoring force now in Darfur. The AU has relied on US and European financial support, but even senators who supported another $50 million for the AU now say they haven't gotten that funding through the Hill's own budget battles. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.