ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block. The US. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, today excoriated the government of Sudan for what she called reckless and callous actions that threaten the lives of innocents. She was referring to Sudan's decision to expel 13 aid groups. That action came after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir on war crimes charges. Ambassador Rice told me she spoke with Sudan's U.N. ambassador today and urged him to reverse course.
Ambassador SUSAN RICE (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations): I also underscored that if the government of Sudan proceeds down this course, it will represent a major escalation of the crisis in Darfur, as well as precipitate a crisis in the government's relationships with the rest of the international community.
BLOCK: I want to ask you more about the arrest warrant itself. What's the enforcement power here? President Bashir is basically thumbing his nose at the court. He has support from the African Union, from the Arab League, from China. They want the U.N. to defer this for a year. Is this an arrest warrant, really, without teeth?
Amb. RICE: Well, Melissa, it's an arrest warrant. The act of arresting President Bashir is a separate matter but obviously, it is something that has gotten the attention of the government of Sudan. The United States and the majority of countries on the United Nations Security Council do not believe that a deferral of the arrest warrant is justified or constructive. And indeed, the events of the last 48 hours only underscore the importance of standing up for the people of Sudan and not allowing the government to put its people at risk and do so with impunity.
BLOCK: Of course, the United States itself has refused to become a party to the International Criminal Court when it was created. Doesn't that undercut U.S. authority here?
Amb. RICE: No, Melissa, it doesn't because the United States has joined with others in the Security Council to refer this case to the International Criminal Court, consistent with international law. The panel of judges looked at all the evidence and came to the conclusion that first, an indictment and subsequently an arrest warrant were called for. And I think the United States is fully supportive of that conclusion.
BLOCK: What leverage is the U.S. prepared to use against President Bashir?
Amb. RICE: Our aim in that, as others in the international community, is to protect those whose lives are at most immediate risk. And that could best be accomplished if the Sudanese government were to recognize the consequences of this decision and reverse course.
BLOCK: Ambassador Rice, in the past, you have been very outspoken on this issue of Darfur and Sudan. And you have called for international air strikes against Sudanese targets. Now that you're in the administration as U.N. ambassador, are you still pushing for that? Is that a scenario that you could imagine and that you would favor?
Amb. RICE: My suggestion of escalating pressure on the government of Sudan back in 2006 was a function of the need to have life-saving protection on the ground for civilians. Where we are today is that we have an U.N. African Union Peacekeeping Force on the ground that is beginning to be able to provide that protection, but not at full strength and not with all the equipment it needs.
This move, however, in the last 48 hours, has the potential to take the crisis to a different level. And we in the United States government, our partners in the United Nations and elsewhere, will try to impress upon the government of Sudan the importance of reversing course. And if that does not succeed, then we'll need to take a look at all the levers at our disposal.
BLOCK: The rhetoric coming from both the Sudanese ambassador and from President Bashir has been totally defiant. I mean, were you picking up any signals from him that they're prepared to reverse course?
Amb. RICE: I think we'll have to see. I can't say that I came away from the discussion encouraged. That said, I think the message that I conveyed was clearly and forcefully delivered, and I think it'll be heard in Khartoum.
BLOCK: Susan Rice is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Thanks very much for talking with us.
Amb. RICE: Thank you.
BLOCK: I also spoke today with Alex De Waal, author of the book "Darfur: A New History of a Long War." He calls the action by the International Criminal Court to issue the arrest warrant for President Bashir a sad day for Sudan.
Dr. ALEX DE WAAL (Program Director, Social Science Research Council; Author): It was always going to be a gamble, a risk. And at the moment, it doesn't look as though that risk is paying off. In a country like Sudan, which is extremely volatile, prone to violence, which is in the middle of a very complex, negotiated transition towards democracy, towards a more civil form of government where we have an ongoing, very effective humanitarian program in Darfur, peacekeeping forces in many parts of the country, what is needed is international measures that increase the consensus within the country.
What the International Criminal Court decision for an arrest warrant against President Bashir has done is introduce a huge new element of uncertainty. It was a risk. And what we're seeing over the last couple of days is the beginnings of things going quite seriously wrong. And I find that very sad for the many people in Darfur especially, who will be going hungry, will be exposed to the risk of violence, the risk of disease as a result of what's happening.
BLOCK: But really, what's the alternative? I mean, why should there be not some moral judgment on a president who many consider to be a war criminal? Why should that not be the basis for his arrest?
Dr. DE WAAL: Certainly, there is a very fundamental principle of justice and accountability, but retributive justice in a court of law while the person whom you are indicting still wields huge power over the lives and deaths of millions of people is a gamble. In this case, the international statute here was that Bashir cannot be removed from power and needs to be negotiated with. And the pressure that was being exerted on him was to honor the agreements he had already signed. If we introduce a new element into this equation, which is an arrest warrant which can never be withdrawn, there is no possibility of amnesty, there is no possibility of lifting this, then we've changed the game. We've created a man who has nothing to lose - not just a man, actually, a regime. Because those around him who are not indicted but are certainly equally implicated, are all in the same boat. And they know if they don't hang together, they will hang separately.
BLOCK: And what do you expect to come from President Bashir himself?
Dr. DE WAAL: Bashir is undoubtedly going to remain defiant. He's a man who is intensely proud. He's very emotional. He will be appealing to the Africans, to the Arabs, to the Asians to have solidarity with him against what he will call a neocolonialist conspiracy, an attempt to unseat him, etc. And I think we're going to have to do business with him. I think it's much better to stick with the devil we know - he may be a devil, but we know him. He has stuck to a considerable number of agreements, the key parts of the North-South Agreement. It is an imperfect option. It involves a number of unpleasant compromises that stick in my throat. But nonetheless, it is better than any other alternative that is on the table.
BLOCK: Alex de Waal, thanks for talking with us.
Dr. DE WAAL: You're very welcome.
BLOCK: Alex de Waal is program director with the Social Science Research Council.
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