Rice to Sudan: Cooperation or Confrontation?

Two years ago, the Bush administration first used the word genocide to describe the conflict in Darfur, Sudan. Now Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says Sudan has a final choice: cooperation or confrontation.

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Two years after describing the conflict in Darfur, Sudan as genocide, the Bush administration is signaling a new push to resolve it. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave a lengthy speech on the subject yesterday. She warned Sudan has a choice: cooperation or confrontation.

NPR'S Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: In front of a group of African diplomats and activists, Secretary Rice spoke passionately about her meeting with rape victims at a camp in Darfur last year. She says she's learned that the situation there has only gotten worse. The government is on a new offensive, targeting civilians who Secretary Rice said have already paid a terrible toll.

Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Secretary of State): Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children have been murdered. Nearly two million more have been driven and displaced from their homes in Darfur, a multitude of people almost four times larger than the population of Washington, D.C. The United States has called this tragedy by the only name that captures its meaning, the only name it deserves: genocide.

KELEMEN: While the secretary's speech was filled with dramatic calls for outside intervention, she was vague on how she sees the situation playing out. Sudan is refusing to allow a United Nations peacekeeping force into the country. President Omar al-Bashir stood firm on that during his trip to New York last week, despite appeals from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, President Bush and other world leaders. Speaking through an interpreter, President Bashir argued that a U.N. force is a ploy to re-colonize Sudan.

President OMAR AL-BASHIR (The Sudan): Our country refuses completely any attempt to re-colonize us in this sly manner.

KELEMEN: For the time being, the United Nations is working out ways to get more help to the ill-equipped African Union force already in Darfur. Secretary Rice is trying to build up diplomatic pressure. She says Sudan faces, as she put it, a clear and consequential decision, a choice between cooperation with the U.S. and the world or confrontation.

Ms. RICE: If the Sudanese government chooses confrontation, if it continues waging war against its own citizens, challenging the African Union, undermining the peacekeeping force, and threatening the international community, then the regime in Khartoum will be held responsible. And it alone will bear the consequences of its actions.

KELEMEN: Among those listening to the secretary's speech was David Rubenstein of the Save Darfur Coalition.

Mr. DAVID RUBENSTEIN (Save Darfur Coalition): The timing of it is two years too late, but I think it's fabulous that it happened. I think the words were wonderful, but words are not sufficient. We need action now. We need boots on the ground. We need troops to protect the people who are being shot.

KELEMEN: And he thinks Sudan will only respond to real pressure, not just from the U.S. but from its business partners, including China.

Mr. RUBENSTEIN: Either the Sudanese government has to feel that they are under great threat from losing power, or they have to understand that the world community is not going to be supporting them. That includes the Chinese, it includes African nations, it includes the Arab League.

KELEMEN: U.S. officials say they're being vague on purpose about the potential consequences for Sudan if it doesn't let in U.N. troops. They say they don't want to complicate an already difficult diplomatic dance with Khartoum. But they may also be avoiding making threats they can't keep. China is unlikely to agree to U.N. sanctions. And U.N. officials who have been making plans for a peacekeeping force say countries willing to take part won't send troops to shoot their way into Darfur.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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