Obama Drops Plan to Isolate Sudan Leaders

Category: International
Published on Saturday, 17 October 2009 16:30
Written by GINGER THOMPSON, The New York Times
Hits: 8359
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has formulated a new policy for Sudan that proposes working with that country’s government, rather than isolating it as President Obama had pledged to do during his campaign.
In an interview on Friday, President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, retired, said the policy, to be announced Monday by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, would make use of a mix of “incentives and pressure” to seek an end to the human rights abuses that have left millions of people dead or displaced while burning Darfur into the American conscience.
248px-whitehousesouthfacadeGeneral Gration said the administration would set strict time lines for President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan to fulfill the conditions of a 2005 peace agreement that his government signed with rebels in southern Sudan.

Under that agreement, independence for southern Sudan is to be put to a vote in 2011.

“To advance peace and security in Sudan, we must engage with allies and with those with whom we disagree,” said a statement of the policy that was obtained by The New York Times.

General Gration said the administration’s new approach was also intended to prevent Sudan, which once provided refuge to Osama bin Laden, from again serving as a terrorist haven.

During his campaign, Mr. Obama criticized the Bush administration for doing too little to stop the killing.

His new policy, the result of months of vigorous and heated debate within the administration, signals a significant shift in the president’s thinking, which his aides say is a reflection of changing facts on the ground.

In recent months, analysts from both inside and outside the United States government have reported that “low-intensity” skirmishes replaced systematic slaughter by government-supported militants on one side and rebel groups on the other. Villages are no longer being burned down at the same rate, although some say that is because there are few villages left to burn.

Crime has replaced warfare as the biggest threat to civilians. And intelligence officials say Sudan has provided important cooperation in the United States’ fight against terrorists.

The Obama administration continues to use the word genocide to characterize the killings in Sudan, and aides acknowledged that the word loomed large in their months of deliberations.

But Michael Abramowitz, director of the Committee on Conscience at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, wrote on the committee’s Web site, “Now conditions in Sudan have changed. We believe it is most accurate to place Darfur and the rest of Sudan in our ‘genocide warning’ category.”

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “People were wrestling with the question of how to deal with the fact that to get to the best-case scenario — which is to change the behavior of the Khartoum government — we are going to have to work with a government responsible for so many atrocities.”

But the new administration policy is likely to inflame an already vociferous chorus of criticism.

In advertisements and letters to the White House, legislators, activist groups and Sudanese rebel leaders have accused Mr. Obama of abandoning his promises to make Sudan a priority from his first day in office and to stand tough against President Bashir, whom the International Criminal Court indicted this year for crimes against humanity.

Some critics have expressed outrage over earlier statements by General Gration in which he raised questions about the effectiveness of imposing sanctions and suggested that a series of rewards might work better at getting Mr. Bashir’s government in Khartoum to cooperate.

In the interview, General Gration disagreed with the critics.

Summing up the administration’s approach, he cited what he described as an old African proverb. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, you have to go with someone,” he said.

“We want to go far,” General Gration said, “and to do that we are going to have to go with Khartoum.”