Home | News    Friday 13 February 2009

US Senate, advisory body weigh new approach to Sudan crises

By Daniel Van Oudenaren

February 12, 2009 (WASHINGTON) — Even as the US Congress was absorbed in the details of a massive economic stimulus plan, two roundtable events were held Wednesday and Thursday in congressional office buildings, highlighting Sudan’s crises and weighing ways to move ahead with a new, more muscular policy.

Sen. John Kerry (AP)

The congressional scrutiny comes as conflicting reports surface that an arrest warrant has been issued by the International Criminal Court for Sudanese President Omer Al-Bashir, a decision that has raised further debate on the prospects for Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), a deal struck in 2005 between the rival ruling parties of North and South Sudan.

Roger Winter, former special State Department envoy to the Sudan, said Thursday of the CPA, “it is stumbling; it is going to fail,” pausing before adding “a very likely possibility, perhaps growing at this point.”

In recommendations presented on Wednesday, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) suggested creating security guarantees for Southern Sudan in order to deter a renewal of the North-South civil war. Moreover, the Commission advocated providing the Sudan People’s Liberation Army with “secure radar, communications, and other passive, defensive equipment,” as well as military education and training at US facilities.

“The key to making CPA implementation a reality is to put Southern Sudan in a position where it has leverage,” said Commissioner Leonard Leo in an interview. “In that context, that means creating as strong and economically prosperous a region as possible.”

“I think that some of these things have to happen fairly quickly,” he said, adding that contributions do the SPLA’s passive defensive capacity should have happened already.

Leo, who was appointed by President George W. Bush and led a USCIRF delegation to Juba and Malakal last October, explained that the Commission got involved because it saw the North-South conflict in Sudan as “largely precipitated by religious hostility and differences.”

The Commission, a government agency created by Congress in order to advise the State Department, tendered its recommendations to Secretary Hilary Clinton, the National Security Council and Congress. “Technically it is the National Security Council’s job to coordinate among the various parts of the executive branch. So it is incumbent upon them to try to find a way forward,” said Leo.

Joining the former presidential envoy to Sudan, John Danforth, in calling for the appointment of a new Special Envoy, the Commission recommended someone with “the stature necessary to emphasize the priority of Sudanese peace and stability to the new Administration.”

Four members of congress attended the USCIRF event: Chris Smith (R-NJ), Frank Wolf (R-VA), Donald Payne (D-NJ) and Barbara Lee (D-CA).


During a roundtable hosted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, Senator John 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,” Kerry said.

Members of President Obama’s campaign team had advocated imposing a no-fly zone, but since taking office administration officials have generally only made oblique reference to the proposed military measure. However, John Prendergast, co-chair of the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress, told Sudan Tribune that the no-fly zone option appears still to be on the table.

But Prendergast noted, “Pentagon reviews of options are a dime a dozen. It will require a political decision by the National Security Council to make the no-fly zone a real possibility.”

The roundtable participants emphasized the need for the US to help lead efforts to implement the North-South agreement. “We have got to get a special envoy on the playing field as quickly as possible,” said Prendergast, as well as a full diplomatic team. “Success depends on hour to hour and day to day bird-dogging of the parties to ensure every detail is addressed. Incentives and pressures should be created to raise the stakes.”

Currently the State Department’s Sudan programs are headed by Tim Shortley, who served as the senior Sudan official since the Bush administration. Shortley was in Addis Ababa with Sudanese President Omer Al-Bashir last week for the African Union conference, and afterwards traveled to Khartoum.

A government-sponsored news service earlier this month disseminated reports that Shortley’s visit aimed to dissuade the rebel Justice and Equality from attacking another Darfur faction that has been aligned with the government since a largely abortive 2006 peace deal, the terms of which the United States supports. He met with the ex-rebel signatory of this deal, Minni Minawi, on February 4.

Though the US embassy denied that these were Shortley’s intentions, he could not be reached to clarify.

Senator Kerry said that he had met with Secretary Clinton that morning and disclosed that she was favorable toward the concept of the no-fly zone and other "concrete steps." He added, "To the degree that anyone is listening, particularly Khartoum, I hope they will understand, no matter what happens with the ICC, that there is a moment here to try to change the dynamics and begin to move responsibly. 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."

Senator Kerry concluded at the end of the discussion, “It seems to me that right now Darfur is beginning to became a symbol and a reality at the same time of failed multilateralism, failed leadership, absence of capacity of moral nations to translate their outrage into a series of coherent steps that have a positive impact on the lives of innocent victims and citizens of another country.”

Four senators attended the roundtable at some point, Senator Kerry (D-MA), Senator Feingold (D-WI), Senator Cardin (D-MD) and Senator Kaufman (D-DE), according to a Senate aide.