The United States will change its policy on Sudan to pursue greater engagement with the Sudanese government and less isolation, senior U.S. officials said Monday.
“Our conscience and our interests in peace and security call upon the United States and the international community to act with a sense of urgency and purpose,” President Obama said in a written statement. The revised strategy aims to end conflict and genocide in Sudan’s western region of Darfur. It also seeks to ensure the effective implementation of a 2005 peace treaty that ended a civil war between mostly Muslim northern Sudan and the country’s Christian and animist south. More than 2 million people were killed in the war. The United States also wants to keep Sudan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists. More than 300,000 people have died in Darfur and more than 3 million have been displaced in a campaign of killing and rape that the United States has denounced as genocide, according to U.N. estimates,. The shift toward greater engagement comes after an “intensive review across the United States government,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. “Sudan today is at a critical juncture,” and while achieving peace and stability will not be easy, “sitting on the sidelines is not an option,” Clinton said.
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Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the Obama administration will “employ calibrated incentives as appropriate and exert real pressure as needed.” The U.S. government will seek verifiable consequences and ensure “significant consequences for parties that backslide or simply stand still,” she said. The new policy represents a shift for Obama, who indicated a preference for greater sanctions during last year’s presidential campaign. At the time, he also backed the possible establishment of a no-fly zone to protect residents of Darfur from the Sudanese air force. White House advisers have been divided over the proper approach toward the government in Khartoum, Sudan. Retired Air Force Maj. J. Scott Gration, the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, was lambasted by liberal critics for suggesting wooing the Sudanese government with “cookies” and “gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk (and) engagement.” Rice has reportedly pushed for a tougher, more confrontational position. The new policy is a step in the right direction but will require effective implementation “backed by sustained presidential leadership,” said Jerry Fowler, head of the Save Darfur Coalition, an alliance of faith-based, advocacy and human rights organizations. “Incentives should not be provided before there is concrete and lasting progress on resolving Sudan’s interlocking crises,” he said. One veteran analyst of the conflict in Sudan, however, warned that the policy would likely fall short of its goals. It fails to take on “today’s fundamental challenge: how to deal with a regime bent on blocking southern Sudan’s independence … and militarily defeating Darfurian rebels, and that does so by attacking civilians and burning villages,” John Prendergast wrote in the Los Angeles Times. Prendergast, a former national security adviser to President Clinton, argued that “only when serious and sustained international pressure and credible threats have been applied has the (Sudanese government) altered its behavior.” Violence in Darfur erupted in 2003 after rebels began an uprising against the Sudanese government. To counter the rebels, Arab militias with ties to the government went from village to village in Darfur, killing, torturing and raping residents, according to human rights organizations. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes.