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Of the intractable problems facing the Obama administration, Darfur is high on the list. Today, the White House is announcing a new policy on Sudan. NPR's diplomatic correspondent, Michele Kelemen, spoke with one of the key players, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Ambassador Rice, you have a lot to deal with, with Sudan. You have millions of people still displaced in Darfur by what the U.S. has called a genocide, and the peace agreement between the north and the south of Sudan is fraying as well. How will this new U.S. policy you're announcing, help tackle these issues?
Ambassador SUSAN RICE (United Nations): This is a calibrated, smart, tough policy that integrates both these conflicts and the complexities that they entail and, I think, will enable use to try to push this process forward in a manner that the president has committed to do, because he views the situation in Sudan as dire. He's deeply committed to protecting lives and bringing lasting peace. And we believe that this is a strategy that can accomplish that.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Do you think that genocide is still happening in Darfur and how did that issue play into the decision making?
Ambassador RICE: Well, this is an issue that has been discussed and considered internally. And our view is that there is a genocide that is taking place in Darfur. It certainly has caused enormous suffering for tens and hundreds of thousands, in fact, who have been killed and millions displaced and made refugees.
And our aim is to provide increased protection for those civilians and ensure that they ultimately have the ability to live in a lasting peace with their rights respected. We are very much focused on the conditions on the ground, now, and improving them in a lasting way for the future.
KELEMEN: When you talk about incentives, I mean, who do you deal with in Khartoum? Sudan's president has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur. So does that rule out meetings with him?
Ambassador RICE: We do not meet with the Bashir. We have not and we have no intention of doing so in the near future. Obviously, we have other interlocutors in the government in Khartoum, as well as in the rebel groups in Darfur, as well as the government of south Sudan. And we will deal with all of them.
But the reality is, Michele, that we cannot - despite the despicable acts that this government has taken and has been responsible for, we cannot ignore them in this process. They are one of the parties to the conflict in both cases in north-south and Darfur. They have perpetrated the bulk of the atrocities. And to bring lasting peace, their behavior has to change.
KELEMEN: And what kind of incentives are you talking about? Because that's -that, I guess, is what would be new in this package.
Ambassador RICE: I don't want to get into the specifics of either incentives or pressures, but I want to be clear about one thing. There will be no incentives delivered, absent concrete, tangible progress that is meaningful and measureable on the ground. And the statue quo, or backsliding, is unacceptable.
KELEMEN: Ambassador Rice, many activists have been calling on the president to fire the administration's envoy in Sudan, Scott Gration, because he's been talking or he seems to be lobbying to ease up on some of the sanctions on Sudan. Do you think he's the right person for this job?
Ambassador RICE: I do. And the president has full confidence in General Gration. And he will be playing a leadership role in the implementation of this policy. All of us at a senior level in the administration, will continue to be actively involved. We will, together, make recommendations to the president as the situation unfolds as to what additional steps are needed, whether additional pressures or the easing of pressures.
But General Gration is somebody who knows Africa extremely well. He lived there for many years. He speaks many African languages. He understands the suffering of the people in Darfur and the south. And he's personally deeply committed to improving their situation. He's a man of real compassion and he's worked extremely hard on this and he will continue to do so.
KELEMEN: One other thing. You talk about the incentives and the pressures. And I remember Scott Gration, the envoy, once telling me that carrots and sticks are good for getting donkeys to move, but that the situation in Sudan is much more complicated.
Ambassador RICE: It is complicated. There's no doubt that this is a very complex situation - made more so by the fact that we're trying to move a recalcitrant government with a history of making promises and breaking them, move them forward on two fronts simultaneously, in Darfur and in the north-south process. But the way to do that is with meaningful leverage. And that is what this strategy employs; leverage that is political, economic and otherwise - that can bring not only the government but the other parties to the progress that we need to see.
KELEMEN: Ambassador Rice, thank you very much for your time today.
Amb. RICE: Good to be with you, Michele.
KELEMEN: Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, joined us from her home in Washington, D.C. I'm Michele Kelemen.
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