April 9, 2009 (KHARTOUM) — US Democratic Senator John Kerry, a former presidential candidate and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will visit Darfur next week, a US official said on Monday, amid ongoing diplomatic engagement with the Sudan government.
- Sen. John Kerry (AP)
"John Kerry will arrive in the middle of next week, he will visit Darfur and meet with officials in the country. His visit will last a few days," the Sudanese foreign ministry said earlier this week.
Kerry, who will be heading a congressional delegation, will arrive as congress reportedly readies to throw some more weight behind the regional government of Southern Sudan, which the United States treats with separately from Darfur.
His visit follows that of US Special Envoy Scott Gration, whom President Barack Obama sent to assess the situation and give a personal report.
The Obama administration seems looking for an approach allowing it to resolve the ongoing conflict in Darfur without hurting the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended two decades of war in southern Sudan.
The Democrats during the electoral campaign for the presidency gave priority to the Darfur issue; however they now seem undetermined to take concrete steps in this direction.
In a roundtable hosted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last February, Senator Kerry queried guest witnesses over the feasibility of a no-fly zone proposal over Darfur. "I’m eager to hear the panelists’ thoughts on the pros and cons of a no-fly zone in Darfur," he prefaced.
At the same event, Senator Kerry said Secretary Clinton was favorable toward the concept of the no-fly zone and other "concrete steps."
But according to the former US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, the new special envoy position is just a way of distancing Secretary Clinton from the issue. A State Department spokesman speaking on March 24 disclosed that she was not at the time involved in any direct contacts over the issue.
Her one public statement on the matter called on President Omer Al-Bashir to change his mind about the aid expulsion, a decision he has since called irreversible.
However, Kerry had been confident about the adminstration’s interest in Darfur: "I am absolutely confident that this administration is going to focus on this issue … and I personally am interested in this no-fly zone concept,” he said at the February roundtable event.
Gration during his recent meetings with Sudanese officials has adopted a reconciling tone. He emphasized US friendship with the Sudan government, referring to the strategic alignment of the US toward Khartoum since about 2001 — a rapprochement publicly signalled in May 2004 when the US government removed Sudan from its list of states not cooperating in its “war on terror.”
Despite that the US State Department has persistently been telling US media that aid groups should be granted return to Sudan, Gration backed down from this position in public statements during his visit, proposing an alternative humanitarian plan.