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US Downplays Talk of Sudan Breakthrough


The State Department Monday downplayed talk of an early normalization of U.S. relations with Sudan despite an assertion by the country's foreign minister that full ties would be restored within six months. President Bush's new envoy for Sudan, Richard Williamson is paying his first visit to Sudan. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department appears to be ruling out quick action on restoring full ties with Sudan, despite a comment by the country's foreign minister Monday that this would occur within four to six months.

Sudanese Foreign Minister Deng Alor was quoted Monday, after meeting with U.S. envoy Williamson, as saying there was a timetable for normalizing ties that would include returning a U.S. ambassador in Khartoum, the lifting of at least some American sanctions, and removing the country from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

However, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey told reporters the notion of a normalization deal is incorrect. He said for the upgrade in relations to occur, the Khartoum government would have to meet long-standing Darfur-related conditions, including allowing the full deployment of a new hybrid U.N. and African Union peacekeeping force there.

"We expect for there to really be progress in our bilateral relations with Sudan that Sudan would remove the existing obstacles, and cooperate fully with the deployment of the UNAMID force, the combined AU and the U.N. hybrid force, and that they'd also take the kinds of concrete steps to halt violence by the Janjaweed and others in Darfur," he said. "That's been set out, that's been a part of our policy for a long time."

Ambassador Williamson, a former envoy to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva, met the Sudanese foreign minister Monday as he began his first trip to the region since taking over for former U.S. Sudan envoy Andrew Natsios, who resigned at the end of last year.

Williamson described his meeting with the Sudanese minister as businesslike and pragmatic and said his mission is to advance peace in Darfur as well as cementing Sudan's north-south peace accord.

He said progress cannot just be in lofty rhetoric but deliverable specifics on the ground.

U.S. officials say that despite expressions of good intentions, Sudan has been stalling on deployment of Darfur peacekeepers and on cracking down against the Janjaweed, Arab militiamen blamed for much of the Darfur violence.

Only about one-third of what is to be a 27,000-member international force has thus far been allowed into the troubled western Sudanese region.

Casey said Williamson would discuss Darfur with various Sudanese officials, U.N. representatives, and non-governmental groups in Khartoum, and visit Darfur and southern Sudan later this week.

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