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Senior US Diplomat to Visit Sudan, Libya to Push Darfur Peacekeeping

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte will visit Sudan, Libya and other North African countries on a nine-day mission starting next week. He'll press Sudanese authorities to accept expanded international peacekeeping in Darfur. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Negroponte mission comes as patience among the United States and key allies is wearing thin over the Khartoum government's refusal to accept an expanded United Nations and African Union peacekeeping presence in Darfur.

Officials here are not discouraging the notion that new sanctions against Sudan might be forthcoming after the deputy secretary's visit, if there is no change in policy by Sudanese authorities.

The Negroponte trip, which will include stops in Libya, Chad and Mauritania as well as Sudan, was announced by State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack, who said the Bush administration has additional sanctions against Sudan under active consideration.

He declined to say if the second-ranking State Department official would deliver an ultimatum to Sudan, but said Negroponte would have a direct message about the peacekeeping issue.

"He's going to encourage the Sudanese government to take the steps that it needs to, to get that AU-U.N. force in. And I'm sure that he will have a direct conversation with the Sudanese leadership about where they stand, vis-à-vis the international system," McCormack said.

Sudan and the United Nations ostensibly agreed last November on a three-stage plan for deployment in Darfur of a so-called hybrid force of 20,000 U.N. and AU troops, to replace the hard-pressed African Union observer force there since late 2004.

But after admitting a small U.N. logistics team for the new force, Sudan has blocked further preparations and been insisting that the current 7,000-member AU mission could fulfill peacekeeping needs in Darfur if it had more funding and material support.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed Darfur with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on the sidelines of last week's Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia.

The U.N. chief indicated some progress on the peacekeeping issue and urged the United States and Britain to hold off on sanctions for the time being.

The Bush administration has said that tougher financial sanctions on Sudan including curbs on dollar transactions by that country are being considered.

Britain has suggested an Iraq-style no-fly zone over Darfur, to prevent Sudanese air support for attacks by government-backed Janjaweed militiamen, who are blamed for much of the Darfur violence.

Negroponte will be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Libya since the rapprochement between the two countries that began with Libya's renunciation of weapons of mass destruction at the end of 2003.

The two countries renewed diplomatic relations last year.

Spokesman McCormack said he did not know if Negroponte would meet Libyan Muammar Gadhafi.

He said the deputy secretary will encourage Libya, which borders Darfur, to play an active, positive role on the crisis and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance.