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Sudan Tribune

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US Senators to visit Khartoum in ongoing diplomatic push

May 20, 2009 (WASHINGTON) – Two US Senators will visit the Sudanese capital as part of the newly energized bi-partisan policy of engagement with the Government of Sudan.

Senator Johnny Isakson and Senator Bob Corker announced at a congressional hearing on May 13 that they were planning to visit in about 10 days.

The two Republican Senators will meet with the senior figures of the Sudanese government, including Ali Osman Taha, Senior Assistant of President Omer Al-Bashir, and Ghazi Salaheddin, Assistant of the President.

According to an official news service, they will also call on the National Security and Intelligence Director, Gen. Salah Abdalla Gosh, who visited the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in Langley, Virginia in 2005.

Both lawmakers are part of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whose chairman Senator John Kerry had visited the Sudanese capital in the wake of President Obama’s own envoy, Scott Gration.

Ambassador Nasser Eddin Wali, Director of the America Department at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, told the official SUNA that the visit “comes within the context of the dialogue and interaction initiated by the American administration with the Sudan with the view to develop and promote relations between the two countries.”

Efforts to normalize relations with the United States were tried in the first half of 2008, but fell apart after the US former special envoy, Ambassador Richard Williamson, decided against the talks and recommended several military options to President George W. Bush.

It appeared that relations would further deteriorate when Barack Obama won the US presidential election after saying in a debate that he favoured a no-fly zone in Darfur. As a candidate, the US President had said on October 7, 2008: “We could be… setting up a no-fly zone at relatively little cost to us,” a reference to enforcing a UN Security Council military flight ban in Darfur, “…And that’s what I intend to do when I’m president.”

Instead, the new administration has extended a hand of friendship to Khartoum, in rhetorical gestures reciprocated by President Al-Bashir. Though Al-Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court on March 4, the US State Department did not endorse the warrant.

US and Sudanese diplomats declined to comment on how far have any discussion of normalization has progressed between the two governments, if at all.

Ambassador Wali expressed hope that the congressional delegation would enter into serious talks with the Sudanese side.

The two lawmakers will also visit North Darfur, where they are scheduled to meet with the governor, senior officials, leaders of the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur and residents of Abu Shouk refugee camp.

(ST)