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US Backs Richardson Mission to Sudan


The Bush administration says it supports the effort by New Mexico state Governor Bill Richardson to persuade Sudan to drop its objection to new peacekeeping troops for Darfur. State Department officials say Sudanese leaders have sounded more conciliatory on the issue in recent days, but that the United States is not dropping a threat of punitive action against Khartoum. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Governor Bill Richardson is a prominent Democrat, who has been critical of the Republican administration on many issues. But, officials here are making clear they support the governor's mission to Sudan, and do not consider it an example of diplomatic freelancing.

Richardson, who was ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration, met privately with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to press him to end his opposition to deploying a so-called hybrid force of United Nations and African Union peacekeepers in Darfur.

The peacekeeping plan was first authorized by the U.N. Security Council in August, and modified at an international conference in Addis Ababa in mid-November to try to accommodate Sudanese objections.

Despite the changes, Sudan has continued to resist the new force, which would be three-times as large as the African Union observer mission in the war-torn region.

After his Monday meeting with President al-Bashir, Governor Richardson would not say if he had gotten any commitment, but said there had been some progress, and that he would see the Sudanese leader again Wednesday.

In a talk with reporters, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Richardson conferred before the trip with the U.S. special envoy for Sudan, Andrew Natsios.

He said the private Save Darfur coalition, on whose behalf Richardson is making the trip, is properly calling attention to the crisis in Darfur, and that Richardson's message to the Khartoum leadership is complementary to the one being delivered by Natsios and other administration officials.

"It is an indication that the Sudanese are getting the message from multiple directions about what they need to do," McCormack said. "And, it is very clear they need to implement the Addis (Ababa) agreements. They also need to work with the U.N. to get those elements of the force deployed. It is also up to the U.N. to have itself properly organized, so that it can start those phase one and phase two deployments that President Bashir said would happen. In the meantime, the Sudanese government needs to live up to its commitments under the Darfur peace agreement and the comprehensive peace agreement."

Under prodding from Ambassador Natsios last month, Sudan agreed to accept two preliminary phases of deployment of the hybrid force, but has not authorized phase three, which would be allowing the main body of troops to enter.

McCormack acknowledged that President al-Bashir and other Sudanese officials have been speaking in a more conciliatory way about the peacekeeping plan in recent days. He said the United States takes those comments at face value, but is not discarding a threat of international punitive action if Khartoum fails to act.

Ambassador Natsios, meanwhile, has begun talks on Darfur with Chinese officials in Beijing. McCormack said China has considerable leverage with Sudan because of financial interests in that country, and has been playing a constructive role on Darfur.

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