The United States warned the Sudanese government Wednesday there will be costs in terms of lost benefits and opportunities if violence in the western Darfur region continues. The Bush administration is stepping up diplomatic contacts on Darfur including the dispatch of a new top U.S. diplomat to Khartoum.
The United States has not been represented at the ambassadorial level in Khartoum since 1997, when the Clinton administration virtually severed relations with Sudan over its alleged links to terrorism.
But the Bush administration is naming one of the State Department's most seasoned diplomats, Cameron Hume, to be the new U.S. charge d'affairs in Khartoum in a move underlining American concerns about the Darfur situation.
State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said Mr. Hume, a former U.S. ambassador to South Africa and Algeria, left Washington for Khartoum Wednesday, amid reports of an upsurge in Darfur violence in the last two weeks.
U.S.-Sudanese relations have improved somewhat since the end of 2001, propelled by anti-terrorism cooperation and the conclusion early this year of the Comprehensive Peace Accord ending Sudan's decades-long north-south civil war.
But the Darfur conflict, in which Khartoum authorities have backed Arab militiamen against local rebels, has clouded prospects for a return to normal relations.
Spokesman Ereli said U.S. officials have watched the latest upsurge of violence with concern, and said the Khartoum government should know there is a cost to be paid in terms of both opportunities and benefits lost if the conflict continues.
"There are obviously things the government of Sudan wants that they're not going to get, if they continue to do this," he said. "Number two, there are additional measures that could be taken depending on the circumstances, depending on events on the ground. Number three, you have an ongoing situation of conflict in Darfur between rebels and militias that are supported by the government, and this is a conflict that has gone on for too long."
Spokesman Ereli called Mr. Hume, an Arabic speaker with a long record of African conflict-resolution work, one of the most senior and distinguished members of the U.S. diplomatic corps.
He said his presence in Khartoum is not technically an upgrade in relations, but that the posting reflects the high priority the United States places on implementing the Comprehensive Peace Accord and resolving the Darfur crisis.
Officials here say Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer will make a visit to Sudan beginning late next week and be joined there by Roger Winter, the special Sudan envoy of Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick.
Mr. Zoellick, the Bush administration's point-man for Sudan policy is expected to make his own visit there in November, which will be his fourth to the troubled country since taking office early this year.
The United States has strongly condemned the recent surge in attacks in Darfur attributed to government-backed Janjaweed militiamen and the two main Darfur rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement.
A written statement from the State Department Monday reaffirmed "unequivocal" U.S. support for the African Union's peacekeeping mission in Darfur, and sponsorship of Darfur peace talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
It said rebel attacks on African Union personnel and others run counter to their professed interest in a negotiated peace, and that violence will neither bolster their negotiating position in Abuja, nor earn any group enhanced contacts with the United States.