Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday the world community cannot afford to wait in dealing with the violence in Sudan's western Darfur region, including proceeding with the planned upgrade on the international peacekeeping presence there.
In comments reflecting growing impatience with the pace of Darfur diplomacy, Secretary Rice says the world needs to act without further delay to end the violence in the region, by among other things transforming the African Union observer mission there into a full-scale U.N. peacekeeping force.
The U.N. Security Council has had before it for several months a plan to double the size of the nearly seven thousand member A.U. mission and put it under U.N. command, but the effort has been slowed by political problems including the reluctance of the Sudanese government to accept new troops.
In a talk with reporters after talks here with the new Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay that included the Darfur issue, Secretary Rice said Sudanese authorities have failed in their obligation to protect the people of Darfur and clearly need international help to do it.
She said the United States has been pressing very hard in the Security Council for action on several Darfur-related issues but most importantly the conversion of the A.U. mission into a so-called blue hat United Nations peace force. "There needs to be movement on a blue-hatted force. Planning for it. Troop-generation for it. We really can't afford to wait. We are doing what we can to support the current African Union mission. We are prepared to try to do more to support that mission until the blue-hatted force is able to arrive. But everybody recognizes that you need a more robust force, that's going to come from the U.N. and we are pressing very hard to get that moving," he said.
U.S. officials have said the A.U. force has done a commendable job since elements first began arriving in Darfur in 2004 but it is incapable of covering the entire region.
The Bush administration has been seeking increased NATO logistical support for the A.U. mission and the transition to a U.N. force, and Rice said the issue will be on the agenda for NATO foreign ministers when they convene in the Bulgarian capital Sofia for a two-day meeting April 27.
For his part, Foreign Minister MacKay said Canada has been helping equip the African Union observers and is prepared to continue its support, though he said he doubted that troops from NATO would be part of the envisaged United Nations force. "I would agree that blue helmets are the solution. But I'm not sure that those are North American or even European soldiers that should be wearing those blue helmets. I think at this point in time, the support is in the area of equipment, possibly training, and the humanitarian aid, and injection of support that is required in the short term. In the longer term, I don't think that anybody can say for certainty what that U.N. force is going to look like," he said.
Secretary Rice also said the United States is working at all political and diplomatic levels to try to get an agreement in the Darfur peace talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, but said that does not obviate the need for an upgraded Darfur peacekeeping presence.
Earlier Thursday, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick told a Washington policy forum that negotiators in Abuja are trying to get the warring factions in Darfur to reach an agreement by the end of this month, and said he believes it can be done.
Zoellick, the Bush administration's policy chief for Darfur, said at the Brookings Institution event that the most difficult aspect of the talks concerns post-conflict security arrangements, including disarmament of the various factions.
The Darfur conflict erupted in early 2003 when local rebels took up arms against the Khartoum government, which responded by supporting Arab Janjaweed militiamen in a scorched-earth campaign against civilians perceived as rebel supporters.
Darfur Rebels and Sudanese government forces have also been accused of human rights abuses in the conflict, which has led to the deaths of some 200,000 people and displaced another two million.