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Negroponte Seeks Sudanese Action on Darfur Peacekeeping

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte leaves Washington late Wednesday on a north African mission beginning in Sudan and focusing on the situation in Darfur. The State Department says the Khartoum government can expect new sanctions if there is no movement on a long-delayed expansion of international peacekeeping in Darfur. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

State Department officials are not saying that the deputy secretary is delivering an ultimatum to Sudan over the peacekeeping issue.

But they do say Negroponte wants to see tangible action from the Khartoum government removing obstacles to an expanded presence in Darfur. Officials say if that is not forthcoming Khartoum will face a reaction from the United States and the broader world community.

Negroponte is due to arrive in Sudan Thursday to begin a north African mission that will later take him to Chad, Libya and Mauritania.

The mission comes amid continuing violence in Darfur spilling over into neighboring Chad, and against a background of growing frustration over Sudanese stalling on deployment of the upgraded peace force for Darfur that it ostensibly accepted late last year.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir agreed in principle at an international conference in Addis Ababa in November to admit a so-called hybrid force of about 20,000 African Union and United Nations peacekeepers to replace the hard-pressed 7,000 - member AU observer mission there since 2004.

But Sudan has since blocked a three-stage deployment plan for the hybrid force, and has tried to set terms limiting over-flights by U.N. personnel and declaring certain areas of Darfur off-limits.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack called the situation in Darfur catastrophic and said the world community is poised to act against the Khartoum government in the absence of a qualitative change in the attitude of Sudanese authorities:

"If we don't see movement, tangible actions from the Sudanese government to address the concerns of the international system, then I think you are going to see a reaction from individual member states, as well as a discussion of what collective diplomatic action might be taken," said Sean McCormack. "Now I don't want to detail what those might be. But certainly we have ourselves considered what steps we might take."

McCormack said what Negroponte hears in Sudan during the visit spanning five days will be an important factor in the decision-making process for the United States and other concerned governments.

In a Senate appearance earlier Wednesday, U.S. special envoy for Sudan Andrew Natsios said the Bush administration agreed to a request from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to hold off on sanctions for a few weeks to allow more time for diplomatic efforts by the U.N.

The U.N. chief said Sudanese President Bashir signaled flexibility on the hybrid force at a meeting on the sidelines of the Arab League summit late last month.

Natsios told Senators the Bush administration was poised at that time to impose tighter sanctions, including limiting dollar transactions by Sudanese companies and putting travel and banking restrictions on more Sudanese officials and companies.

Negroponte is a career U.S. diplomat who assumed the number two State Department job in February after a stint in the cabinet-level post of director of U.S. intelligence.

When he goes to Libya next week, he will be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit that country since the bilateral relationship was revived after Libya's decision at the end of 2003 to renounce weapons of mass destruction.

Spokesman McCormack said Negroponte will press Libya, which adjoins Sudan and Darfur, to use its influence with Khartoum on behalf of the peacekeeping plan, and perhaps also to provide logistical support for the hybrid force.