U.S. Seen as Delaying Sudan Sanction Debate

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A year ago, the U.N. Security Council authorized targeted sanctions against Sudanese officials, and others responsible for atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region. But some U.N. diplomats accuse the U.S. of holding up talks on a list of people to be targeted by the sanctions.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The United Nations Security Council is considering targeted sanctions aimed at four people in Sudan. They would be the first to be punished for what the U.S. calls a genocide in Darfur. And they are the only four to be chosen so far from a long list, which included figures on all sides of the conflict. One year ago, when the U.N. agreed to sanctions, the United States was a strong supporter, but now those sanctions pose a diplomatic dilemma, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick describes the four people on the list as just a down payment. But he also suggested there are reasons why the U.S. might not want punish many high level Sudanese officials in Khartoum.

Zoellick told an audience at the Brookings Institution that the U.S. has a complex agenda in Sudan, implementing a fragile peace deal in the south and helping negotiate an end to the conflict in Darfur in the west.

Mr. ROBERT ZOELLICK (Deputy Secretary of State): It's important to demonstrate that there will be accountability. At the same time, you do have players in Khartoum that we're trying to work with to expand the African Union force, to negotiate a peace accord and to bring in whatever sort of U.N. forces. And so that is the challenge of working with regimes that we don't like.

KELEMEN: Zoellick said it is a matter of urgency to strengthen the African Union mission in Darfur and to turn it into a more robust United Nations peacekeeping force. He said he's trying to persuade Sudan to accept a U.N. force, saying the alternative is to invade, an idea he quickly played down.

Mr. ZOELLICK: What has always worried me is that we have a very, very thin veneer here in terms of security and humanitarian support, and it wouldn't take much to break through and take a situation that is already terrible and make it beyond belief. And that is why we have the intensive focus that we do.

KELEMEN: But critics say the U.S. is not doing enough and point out there are no signs Sudan is ready to let in a more robust peacekeeping force. Humanitarian workers are having a harder time delivering supplies in Darfur and violence has spread to neighboring Chad.

Mr. KEN BACON (President, Refugees International): We have to ask a question of whether our policy is working, and if the policy isn't working, what are alternatives?

KELEMEN: That's Ken Bacon, president of Refugees International. He says U.S. policy is conflicted when it comes to dealing with the government of Sudan.

Mr. BACON: We have cooperated with them on intelligence and anti-terrorism, while trying to condemn them for being genocidists on the other side; and it's a message that allows them to sort of wiggle through the middle and to think that we really don't condemn genocide as much as we say. And we're saying this just for domestic political reasons.

KELEMEN: Carlos Pasquale, who recently left the State Department to join the Brookings Institution, says this is a dilemma for the U.S. and one of many balancing acts the Bush administration has to deal with in Sudan. On the issue of security, Pasquale says the U.S. needs to back up it words.

Mr. CARLOS PASQUALE (Brookings Institution): The United States wants NATO to be a serious support in planning and logistical activities where there is an absolutely crucial need. The United States is going to have to be willing and able to put some of it own troops on the ground in support of that NATO mission. Otherwise we will simply be calling on the other countries of NATO to act on our behalf and it will not be credible.

KELEMEN: Deputy Secretary Zoellick said he's been consulting with NATO to try to strengthen the African Union force in Darfur. He made no promises of U.S. military assets and acknowledged that even coming up with money to help the AU mission has been a struggle for him.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News Washington.

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