Home | News    Tuesday 29 September 2009

US prepares to unveil its new Sudan policy

September 28, 2009 (WASHINGTON) — Senior US administration officials are scheduled to meet tomorrow to put the final touches on the long awaited policy review of dealings with Sudan, the Washington Post reported today.

The Obama presidential campaign team has promised to release the policy early in the administration term but divisions within the government agencies has slowed down the process.

The US special envoy to Sudan Scott Gration appointed last March by Obama has been pushing for a softer approach with Sudan’s ruling party, the National Congress Party (NCP).

Gration has called for unwinding some of the sanctions on Sudan and lifting the East African country from the list of states that sponsor terrorism calling it a “political” decision.

The public position of the retired air general while lauded by Khartoum, put him at odds with advocacy groups in Washington, Darfur rebels, South Sudan and even some US officials namely Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice.

Even though Gration later appeared to back down from his earlier asserting he was misunderstood he still believes that engagement and carrots are the way forward.

“We’ve got to think about giving out cookies,” said Gration. “Kids, countries — they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement,” he told the Washington Post.

Gration said that in his view, the ruling party deserves credit lately for allowing some foreign aid groups to return after Bashir expelled others following his March indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of war crimes in Darfur.

Even though Khartoum said it will allow new aid groups to come and replace the evicted ones, there has been no announcement of any new relief organization actually starting work in Darfur.

Furthermore, aid workers still in the region told Gration that Khartoum was still delaying their permits and access to the camps. He said he was surprised that these problems are still occurring saying there maybe a “disconnect” between Khartoum and low-level bureaucrats.

The Sudanese presidential adviser Ghazi Salah Al-Deen in his speech before the UN General Assembly today hailed the new tone in Washington toward his country.

“We welcome the declaration made by the American President, Barack Obama, before the UN General Assembly on his country’s readiness to help find solution to the question of Darfur. Noting the positive tone in the statements voiced by the American President vis-à-vis the developing countries in general,” Salah Al-Deen was quoted by state media.

“We hope that his words will be translated into actions in order to correct the misguided policies of the previous American administration which compromised bilateral relations and aggravated the region’s problems. This requires first and foremost lifting the unilateral sanctions and removing the name of the Sudan from the American list of terrorism” he added.

But on the other side Gration is growing widely unpopular among Darfuris and those opposed to NCP’s rule.

In southern Sudan’s capital of Juba, the region’s president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, told Gration he is concerned that the envoy’s approach is emboldening the ruling party to dictate unfavorable terms for the south’s secession vote, such as demanding 75 percent turnout.

Southerners have repeatedly accused the government of arming militias to create chaos ahead of the vote, and tribal violence has killed 2,000 people in the south this year.

But in his meeting with Kiir, Gration backed the ruling party’s argument, saying it had legitimate concerns about the referendum. Gration urged southerners to trust the government that waged a brutal war against them for 20 years.

“It is the other side that can build trust,” Kiir countered during a news conference. “How will you trust that person that was killing you yesterday?”

Darfur IDP’s bluntly told Gration that they have concerns that “he will go to Bashir and ask him what to do”.

Gration told the IDP’s that he cannot change the past but he can try and make life better for their children.

He also said that despite the advices he received on the stalling and delaying tactics deployed by Khartoum “he is willing to take the risk that he may be betrayed”.

“And if that trust is violated, then I believe pressure should come” he said.

But Sudan activists issued a statement reacting to Gration’s interview describing what they see as a “devastating portrait” of the special envoy.

“The quotes from Special Envoy Gration are deeply troubling. The time is well past for the President, Vice President and Secretary of State to exert much-needed leadership over U.S. diplomatic efforts with Sudan or face the prospect that Sudan will descend into much broader violence” The Enough Project, Save Darfur Coalition, and Genocide Intervention Network said in a press release.

John Norris, Executive Director of the Enough Project, noted, “It is incredibly offensive for the Special Envoy to argue that ’psychological stuff’ is the main impediment keeping Darfuri refugees and the displaced from going home. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, government-backed Janjaweed militias still roam freely in Darfur, and U.N. peacekeepers can’t even protect themselves. The Special Envoy seems to lack even a rudimentary understanding of humanitarian principles or the real situation on the ground. People aren’t going home because they fear being killed, raped and robbed”.

Jerry Fowler of the Save Darfur Coalition added, “It’s jarring to hear talk of ’gold stars’ and ’smiley faces’ for a regime headed by an indicted war criminal. We have always insisted that the best way to deal with Khartoum is a sensible balance of pressures and incentives. The pressures part of that calculation seems to be missing in General Gration’s comments. The Sudanese government is primarily responsible for creating the political instability in Sudan and bears the brunt of the responsibility for ending it. And blaming the victims for not being more open minded towards their oppressors defies logic”.

This week the Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) Chief Khalil Ibrahim blasted Gration saying that he has “no strategy or program for a solution”.

Washington has also been grappling with how to deal with Khartoum over violence in Darfur, where UN estimates say up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have fled their homes amid violence the United States has labeled genocide