U.S. Envoy Calls for Unity in Approach to Darfur

The humanitarian crisis is worsening in Darfur, Sudan, says the new U.S. envoy to Darfur, Andrew Natsios. The former head of the United States Agency for International Development, Natsios is also a professor at Georgetown University. Melissa Block talks with Natsios, who is calling for the global community to speak with one voice on the issue.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

From the United Nations today, a call for a Ramadan cease-fire in Darfur, Sudan. The U.N. is calling on fighters from all sides to lay down their weapons to allow relief workers to get aid to those who need it. The U.N.'s envoy to Sudan, Jan Pronk, says that a month of tranquility would create an atmosphere where the parties can start talking again.

BLOCK: On Tuesday, President Bush named his own envoy for Sudan. He is Andrew Natsios, former head of the U.S. Agency for International Development. I spoke with him earlier today, and he agreed the situation in Darfur is deteriorating rapidly. Natsios says the major powers of the world need to speak with one voice to pressure the Sudanese government to drop its adamant opposition to allowing U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur.

Mr. ANDREW NATSIOS (U.S. Envoy to Sudan): I think getting everybody back on track so that the Sudanese government is hearing one single position from the international community is very, very important. Having the Europeans, the United States, the Africans and I might add the Arab states as well - having the Arab states speak out now and begin to press the Sudanese government I think is a very important tactic.

I also think it's very important that those countries that are helping, the Petronas Oil Company of Malaysia, for example, the Chinese oil company, the Pakistani oil company, that are providing the revenues for the government to operate are a critical part of this. And while the Chinese have publicly said the right things, I'm not certain how much pressure they're actually putting on the government to change their tactics.

BLOCK: You mentioned Arab states. Wouldn't you say, though, that the United States has lost influence among those Arab states given what's going on in Iraq, and that your leverage in trying to get them to pressure the Sudanese government has been diminished?

Mr. NATSIOS: Well, most of the people I know in the Arab countries - the foreign ministers, the presidents, the prime ministers - are very practical people. And when it comes to something like this, I think you can simply - you don't have to leverage them, you simply have to tell them what the consequences of this. This is embarrassing the Arab states, and I think it's embarrassing to the Muslim world because there are no animists or Christians in Darfur. The entire province are Muslims. This is not a conflict of civilizations. This is not a conflict of religion, because everybody's of the same religion. They're all Muslim.

BLOCK: You also mentioned China. It doesn't seem that China has shown any particular appetite for stepping in, pressuring Sudan, and they've got a pretty good deal going. They've got a lot of business interests there.

Mr. NATSIOS: They do, and perhaps through skillful, aggressive diplomacy that could change.

BLOCK: What kind of aggressive diplomacy might that be?

Mr. NATSIOS: Well, if I knew what it was, if I explained our tactics, it might be less effective, so I'm not going to do that on the air.

BLOCK: I'd like to run by you the criticism of John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group. He's a strong critic of the Bush administration's policy, and in an editorial, he has said that your administration has made a series of deadly mistakes with Sudan and that the United States has to become a lot tougher, that punitive action is the only thing that will work here. Incentives are the wrong idea. What do you think about that?

Mr. NATSIOS: Well, I've known John for 17 years now. We've been colleagues, we've been friends, but he has always taken that position. He was the director of the Africa office - or one of the directors - in the National Security Council in the 1990s, and he tried the tactic of what he's suggesting and it was a failure.

So we helped negotiate the peace agreement between the north and the south, which was a success. Now it isn't being fully implemented the way everyone wants it to be, but there is peace in the south, reconstruction is taking place. Some oil revenues have been transferred to the south. So the point here is we did engage in constructive engagement and it was a success.

I think we should at least try aggressive diplomacy right now, and I know the president wants that done, I know the secretary of state wants that done. If that doesn't work, then we're going to have to look at other options.

BLOCK: How long do you give it, though? I mean, some diplomacy, whether aggressive or not is maybe a moot point - but diplomacy has been tried for the last few years, and Darfur is going from bad to worse.

Mr. NATSIOS: Oh, we're not talking about years here. We're talking about weeks, perhaps months, but not very long. And if that doesn't work, then other options are going to have to be considered.

BLOCK: When you say other options, what do you mean?

Mr. NATSIOS: Well, I mean, we're not at that point yet, and when I and (unintelligible) make proposals to the secretary of state and the president, we're not going to do it, with all due respect, through the news media. We're going to talk to them directly. They'll make their decisions, and then we will announce it. I'm not going to communicate with the president of the United States through news media. I mean, that's not the way you do it.

BLOCK: Well, let me ask you one basic thing. The United States has before said there would be no U.S. troops on the ground in Darfur. Is that negotiable, do you think? Is that a possibility?

Mr. NATSIOS: I don't think that U.N., U.S. troops in a peacekeeping force, however they go in, is the best option right now, both in terms of the Sudanese government and in terms of the their sensitivities about this stuff. I don't think that's the real issue, though. There are plenty of governments that have very competent militaries that are willing to send troops in.

It is a matter of getting the Sudanese government to understand that this is in their interest. So I think if we combine aggressive diplomacy with a reconstruction plan that we can show them, with money and with programs that will improve people's lives, that it might change the dynamic within the rebel circles in terms of perhaps signing an agreement that can then be enforced.

BLOCK: There have been a lot of calls for the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Darfur. Would that be on the table?

Mr. NATSIOS: Well, I think there are lots of things that have been discussed, but at this point let's try the aggressive diplomacy for a short time. If it doesn't work, then again we look at other options, but I'm going to present those to the secretary and to the president privately.

BLOCK: Mr. Natsios, thanks very much.

Mr. NATSIOS: Thank you.

BLOCK: Andrew Natsios has just been named President Bush's special envoy for Sudan. He's also a professor at Georgetown University. He spoke with us from New York.

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