SCOTT SIMON, host:

In this country, several senators have written to the director of National Intelligence with a question about Sudan. They want to know why the United States call Sudan a strong partner in fighting terrorism, but at the same time accuses it of carrying out genocide in Darfur.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Senator Ron Wyden is a Democrat from Oregon on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He and three of his colleagues on that committee have some questions for America's top spy chief about Sudan.

Senator RON WYDEN (Democrat, Oregon; Member, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence): I and the other senators are trying to make sense of the administration's policy as it relates to two key areas: the fight against terrorism and of course, steps that are going to be taken to deal with the horrible, horrible genocide in Darfur.

KELEMEN: Wyden says he found it bizarre that Sudan is still on the official list of state sponsors of terrorism. But the State Department's report out this past week described Sudan as a strong partner in the war on terror.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey explained it this way.

Mr. TOM CASEY (Deputy Spokesman, U.S. Department of State): Countries can, in fact, actually do positive things in one area even while they're doing extremely negative things in another. But the point of the matter is there's never been a decision taken to begin a review of Sudan's status as a state sponsor of terror. And I'm not aware of any plans to begin such a review now.

KELEMEN: The State Department's report says that Sudan has, quote, "aggressively pursued terrorist operations involving threats to U.S. interests and personnel in Sudan."

Senator Wyden, who's meeting with the director of National Intelligence next week, says he hopes to hear some examples of this. He'll also ask why another portion of the terrorism report has changed - the description of al-Qaida activities in Sudan where Osama bin Laden once lived.

Senator WYDEN: The 2005 report states there's no indication that al-Qaida elements have had a presence in Sudan with the knowledge and consent of the Sudanese government for at least the past five years. The 2006 report includes no similar statement. So what the senators want to know from the head of the national intelligence community is how's the assessment about al-Qaida in Sudan changed.

KELEMEN: The State Department report says that Osama bin Laden called on al-Qaida to expand its presence in Sudan in response to the possible deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur. There had been some suggestions that Western humanitarian workers could be at risk without good intelligence sharing between the U.S. and Sudan. U.S. officials, however, would not go on record to talk about this.

As to how the U.S. can strike a balance, being tough on Sudan when it comes to Darfur while maintaining cooperation on terrorism issues, the State Department simply pointed to comments made last December by the administration's envoy Andrew Natsios.

Mr. ANDREW NATSIOS (U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan): We appreciate the cooperation between the Sudanese government and us on counterterrorism. It is not driving U.S. policy. It is not the first principle. It is subordinated to the human rights issues and its humanitarian principle. That is not driving policy, nor is it going to constrain what we do.

KELEMEN: The Bush administration has drawn up a list of targeted sanctions on Sudan to add to the many sanctions already on the books. But so far President Bush has not taken any new steps. He says he is giving the United Nations some room to try to persuade Sudan to agree to let in more peacekeepers to protect the millions of people displaced by four years of fighting in Darfur.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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