U.S. at a Crossroads in Response to Darfur Conflict

The United States ambassador to the United Nations says he's hoping the Security Council will move quickly to impose targeted sanctions on people linked to atrocities in Darfur, Sudan. John Bolton says this is a case of say what you mean and mean what you say. But the U.S. hasn't kept its own pledge to sanction militia leaders in Darfur. Michele Kelemen reports.

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The U.N. Security Council is deadlocked over how to punish people accused of atrocities in Darfur, Sudan. Nearly a year ago, the Council authorized targeted sanctions. The U.S., Britain, and others say it's time to act. Members have yet to agree, though, on a list of people who should face travel bans or other sanctions. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

When he came out of a closed-door briefing by a sanctions committee yesterday, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton carried a message from other Security Council members. They were upset, he says, that a secret annex of a report was leaked to the media, an annex that included names of 17 people experts think should be sanctioned for their alleged role in atrocities in Darfur. But while the council members agreed to denounce the leak, they didn't get around to actually talking about the names, and Bolton acknowledges there are sharp differences over the idea of sanctioning individuals at all.

Mr. JOHN BOLTON (U.S. Ambassador): From our perspective, this is a case of say what you mean, and mean what you say. And if the council doesn't mean what it says, and isn't willing to take steps to persuade people to follow what it says, its credibility will decline, and people need to consider that consequence.

KELEMEN: U.N. diplomats say China and Qatar are among those arguing against targeted sanctions, and Russia is questioning whether sanctions would further complicate a peace process. That's not surprising to John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group, who spoke to us by cell phone.

Mr. JOHN PRENDERGAST (Co-Director, International Crisis Group): Now, we're moving to the politics of the Security Council, where you have all kinds of different actors who don't want to really do anything about Sudan right now, obstruction progress. So, it will be quite a miracle if the Security Council actually imposes sanctions on any of the individuals listed in this thing. It will require direct and very specific leadership from Bolton and the United States, and we still haven't seen that.

KELEMEN: He says, by describing Darfur as a genocide, the Bush administration raised expectations about what it would do. So far though, the U.S. has not imposed any punitive measures on individuals accused of war crimes. As for U.N. sanctions, the leaked list of names, first published by the liberal magazine American Prospect, includes one name that poses a dilemma for the Bush administration.

Salah Abdallah Gosh is Sudan's intelligence chief, and has been an important source for CIA officials in the war on terrorism. The Los Angeles Times reported last year that the CIA even flew him to its headquarters for talks. John Prendergast says by dealing with him, the U.S. is losing its moral clarity on Darfur.

Mr. PRENDERGAST: He was Osama bin Laden's minder when bin Laden lived in Sudan for six years in the '90s, and he has been engaged in helping to mastermind the counter-insurgency campaign the government waged against the Darfurian rebels that led to the American government calling it genocide. He directly was responsible for recruiting the militias known as the [unintelligible]. So, he's up to his elbows in blood.

KELEMEN: Asked whether the U.S. thinks Salah Abdallah Gosh should face targeted sanctions, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli was non-committal.

Mr. ADAM ERELI (Spokesman, State Department): The experts have not yet presented their findings. So, let's first see what they've come up with, and then we'll work to take the appropriate action.

KELEMEN: The Sanctions Committee at the U.N. holds more talks today, but diplomats say they don't expect to start going through lists of names. Today is also the final day of the U.S. presidency of the Security Council. Ambassador John Bolton had promised to use this month to pave the way for a U.N. force to go to Darfur, but he ran into opposition and delays there, as well.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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