President Barack Obama named White House adviser and retired U.S. Air Force Major General J. Scott Gration on Wednesday to be the administration's special envoy for Sudan. Gration, a fluent Swahili speaker who grew up in Africa, will lead U.S. efforts to try to reverse Sudan's recent expulsion of relief groups operating in Darfur.
The president is turning to one of the top Africa experts in the U.S. government to lead efforts to deal with a Darfur situation, which has become more acute in recent days with President Omar al-Bashir's move to shut down international relief operations.
Gration, who grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Christian missionary parents, was named to the Sudan post by President Obama, who, in a written statement, said Sudan is a priority for the administration, especially at a time, he said, "when it cries out for peace and justice."
Mr. Obama said the United States supports the "full and unobstructed" deployment of the hybrid African Union and United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur, and wants a political solution there that will give the people of the region a meaningful voice in decisions affecting their future.
He said the Khartoum government's "disastrous" decision to expel relief workers - an apparent response to the International Criminal Court's war crimes action against President Bashir - leaves a void that will be filled by deprivation and despair, and that Sudanese authorities "will be held accountable for lives lost."
President Obama's statement echoed comments on Tuesday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who ascribed a share of responsibility for the Darfur situation to Arab and African governments that have been protective of Mr. Bashir.
State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said U.S.-Sudan diplomacy will be aimed in part at generating pressure on the Sudanese leader by his erstwhile allies.
"We have had conversations with a number of Arab states," he said. "We will have conversations with others, other Islamic states, to talk about our concerns. And I think the secretary made very clear yesterday where we stand on that - that if indeed there is no decision to reverse the expulsion of these international humanitarian workers, then other states need to step up and provide assistance and relief to the people of Darfur."
Wood again made clear that the United States, though a non-signatory of the ICC founding convention, opposes any effort to postpone enforcement of the court's arrest order against Mr. Bashir and accepts no link between that and the action against aid workers.
Gration will fill a Sudan envoy job that has been vacant since diplomat Richard Williamson stepped down from the post at the end of the Bush administration.
The former general accompanied Mr. Obama on a tour of Africa in 2006 and they become close friends.
His appointment was hailed by U.S. Darfur activists, including the head of the Save Darfur Coalition, Jerry Fowler, who said Gration's experience, gravitas and close relationship with President Obama will contribute greatly to his effectiveness.