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Transcript: US Natsios, Senator Menendez clash over Darfur

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By Wasil Ali

April 11, 2007 (WASHINGTON) — Democratic Senator Robert Menendez from New Jersey got into a lengthy argument with President Bush’s Special Envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios over whether the classification of genocide still holds in Darfur.

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Robert Menendez

The committee on foreign relations at the US senate summoned Natsios on Wednesday April 11 to testify on the Bush administration’s plan to deal with Sudan should it insist on rejecting UN peacekeeping force in Darfur.

Senator Menendez also questioned the seriousness of the Bush administration over launching a ‘Plan B’ to force Sudan to accept UN peacekeepers in Darfur.

(ST)

The following is the unofficial transcript of this portion of the hearing:

MENENDEZ : Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Ambassador, I appreciate your work. But I must tell you, it seems to me that we are being waltzed by people while people die. And the reality is, is I look at this latest report, where the United Nations refugee agency said that militiamen had killed up to 400 people in the volatile Chadian eastern border region near Sudan leaving, quote, "an apocalyptic scene of mass graves and destruction."

And the attacks by the Janjaweed took place in the border area. And it goes on to say, "Estimates of the number of dead have increased substantially and now range between 200 and 400, a report by the U.N. high commissioner for refugees said. The report added that many of the dead were buried in common graves."

And it says, quote, "We may never know their exact number. The attackers encircled the villages, opened fire, pursuing fleeing villagers, robbing women, shooting the men. The agency said many who survived the attack died from exhaustion and dehydration."
You know, I want to ask you a question: Do you still stand by what you were quoted in the Georgetown Voice, saying that the ongoing crisis in Darfur is no longer a genocide situation?

NATSIOS: Senator, I actually — there was a retraction of that by the newspaper the following week.

I actually looked at my statement very clearly. I did not say that at the — there were three mistakes, and the Georgetown Voice...

MENENDEZ : So would now tell the committee what is the situation in Darfur ? Is it a genocide?

NATSIOS: In Darfur, Senator, right now there is very little fighting in Darfur.

MENENDEZ : That does not mean...

NATSIOS: Senator, could I finish?

(CROSSTALK)

MENENDEZ : The question is, do you consider...

NATSIOS: Senator...

MENENDEZ : Answer my question. I have a limited amount of time, Ambassador. If I ask you to be specific and answer my question.

NATSIOS: I’m answering your question.

MENENDEZ : Do you — you can’t answer if you haven’t heard it. Do you consider the ongoing situation in Darfur a genocide, yes or no?

NATSIOS: What you just...

MENENDEZ : Yes or no.

NATSIOS: Senator, please. What you just read did not take place in Darfur...

MENENDEZ : I didn’t...

(CROSSTALK)

NATSIOS: There is very little...

MENENDEZ : I’m asking you yes or no.

NATSIOS: There is very little violence in Darfur right now.

(CROSSTALK)

MENENDEZ : What do you not understand?

NATSIOS: Senator, I just answered your question.

MENENDEZ : Is the circumstances in Darfur today a continuing genocide, yes or no?

NATSIOS: Senator, there is very little fighting between the rebels and the government, and very few civilian casualties going on in Darfur right now. I just told you...

MENENDEZ : Ambassador, I’m not asking whether diminished fighting. I’m asking whether the situation in Darfur today is a genocide, yes or no?

NATSIOS: Senator...

MENENDEZ : Yes or no? NATSIOS: The situation is very volatile.

MENENDEZ : All right.

NATSIOS: There are periods of killings which could be construed as genocide that took place last fall and earlier this year.

(CROSSTALK)

MENENDEZ : You know, in the present convention that the United Nations has on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide it says, "Genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, such as killing members of the group, causing seriously bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring the children of the group to another group."

It seems to me that those clearly are elements of what is taking place in Darfur.

(CROSSTALK)

MENENDEZ : Let me ask you — you don’t want the answer the question yes or no.

NATSIOS: I did answer the question.

MENENDEZ: Let me go on to the following question: What are we willing to accept from the secretary general? Anything less than the agreements that we have had to date that we expect to be enforced? Do we expect anything less than that?

NATSIOS: Let me just say very clearly, sir, I follow what’s going on on the ground every day from cables, from reports and there are acts of barbarity against people. Some of them are now being committed by rebels. In one of the camps, the rebels have begun to rape women. Rebels, OK?

There are — there is anarchy in much of Darfur now. And there is — 300 Arabs were killed in southern Darfur ...

MENENDEZ: Ambassador, I appreciate your lengthy anecdotal responses, but please just answer my question.

NATSIOS: I am answering...

MENENDEZ: The question is, what are we willing to accept from the secretary general’s negotiations? Is it anything less than the agreements that we previously thought we had?

NATSIOS: No, we are not willing to accept anything less.

MENENDEZ: OK.

Are we ready to implement plan B if the secretary general fails, yes or no?

NATSIOS: We were asked — as I said earlier before you arrived, Senator, Secretary General Ban asked Dr. Rice, and asked me last week when I met with him, for two to four weeks before we go to plan B. We had actually intended to go it, and there was a congressional delegation going there. And we decided not to announce it, or the president decided not to announce...

MENENDEZ: I understand all that. The question is...

NATSIOS: The plan is prepared...

MENENDEZ: ... if the secretary general fails in his efforts — I hope he succeeds...

NATSIOS: Yes.

MENENDEZ: ... are we ready to go to plan B?

NATSIOS: Yes, we are.

MENENDEZ: And then, are we ready to immediately move to plan B and implement it, in that case?

NATSIOS: Well, once it’s signed it will be immediately implemented.

MENENDEZ: Once it’s signed.

NATSIOS: Well, the president has to sign the order.

MENENDEZ: My point is, are we at the point where, if the secretary general fails, the administration is ready to move forward...

NATSIOS: I just said, Senator, if at the end of the two to four weeks he requested, if we haven’t made the progress that we believe needs to be made, I believe the president will make the decision.

I’m not going to presume what the president’s going to decide and the announcement that he’s going to make. It’s not for my — my place to do that.

NATSIOS: But I know how angry he is and impatient he is over this, as I am, as Dr. Rice is.

MENENDEZ : Well, I think part of our problem is that we are quickly losing credibility in this process with Mr. al-Bashir and others. Because it’s like a child. You continuously tell him, "Don’t do that; don’t do that" — I mean, use your public opportunities to say, "Don’t do that; don’t do that," and they continue to do it, and they continue to do it. And you say, "Don’t do that," guess what. That child never believes that in fact you are going to extract (ph) a punishment.

NATSIOS: I agree with you, Senator.

MENENDEZ : And so, ultimately, we’re at the point that — it seems to me we’re at that point.

Let me just say, I’ve got the corrected Georgetown version here. And you are quoted in the corrected version as saying, "The term ’genocide’ is counter to the facts of what is really occurring in Darfur."

NATSIOS: Senator, I did not say that. But look...

MENENDEZ : That’s the corrected version.

NATSIOS: ... that’s not the point.

MENENDEZ: Well, I hope that this administration...

NATSIOS: The fact of the matter is...

MENENDEZ: ... views what is happening in Darfur as genocide.

NATSIOS: There is terrible...

MENENDEZ: I hope that our words that "never again" are meaningful. And those words can only be meaningful if we act. And I hope that we will not permit this to continue to happen on our watch.

I hope you take that back to the administration. It is time to get past the talk about plan B and it is time to begin to enforce plan B.

NATSIOS: If we want to get the international community to support our efforts under plan B, and other countries to implement unilateral sanctions or bilateral sanctions against the Sudanese government, we have to cooperate with them.

NATSIOS: We have to talk with them. We cannot simply ignore what everybody else is doing.

As I said before, Senator, before you came in, we’ve had extensive meetings with the Europeans over the last three months over how they might unilaterally, without a U.N. resolution, impose their own sanctions, which would be similar to ours.

It would be much more powerful — much more powerful if a new set of sanctions is both used as the dollar and the Euro to enforce. We know that from experiences in Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

We are now engaged in diplomacy to get the Europeans on board. Chancellor Merkel, I believe it was two weeks ago, and the German defense minister — they’re in the presidency of the European Union — have now said, even with the absence of a U.N. resolution, the European Union may consider seriously imposing sanctions, which they never do. They always want a Security Council resolution. This is a big change in position.

If we want to affect the behavior of the Sudanese government, we have to have a coordinated international approach. That’s what we have right now. It takes a little bit more time to do that because you have to talk to other people, as I’m sure you’re aware, Senator.

If we simply do what we want to do, I would have done it a long time ago. But Ban Ki-moon — we need Ban Ki-moon’s support on this. If he asks for two to four weeks, we’re going to give him two to four weeks.

The Europeans asked us to work with them on how this could be done in a way that would effectively paralyze the Sudanese economy. They’ve asked us how it is that we’re going to do this from an enforcement mechanism.

We’re working with them. We had a meeting in Washington three weeks ago on this, on a technical level, to go through the steps needed for them to impose parallel sanctions to what we’re doing.

So if we’re going to do this, whether it’s two weeks or four weeks, Senator, what’s — the important thing is, it has the necessary effect on the behavior of the Sudanese government. That’s the purpose.

MENENDEZ: Mr. Chairman, I know my time’s over. But...

BIDEN: Take your time.

MENENDEZ: I listened to you, I listened to you carefully.

A hundred and one days ago, you on behalf of the administration announced plan B. Now, two to three weeks more. What does it matter if it takes a little time?

If I was sitting in those camps, I could not stand the counsels of patience and delay. And I hope we get to the point that we understand that.

And I understand about multilateral action. But at some point in time we must lead.

NATSIOS: I agree.

MENENDEZ: And it seems to me that we have not gotten to the point where we are truly leading. And I hope that the administration will do that sooner rather than later, because people are dying. That’s the reality.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

(The unofficial transcript is the courtesy of the official website of Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ))

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