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Sudan's Bashir Welcomes Conciliatory US Tone on Darfur

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir says he is encouraged by the conciliatory tone coming from Washington in recent weeks regarding the conflict in Darfur. Mr. Bashir said the subject of the war crimes indictments against him did not come up during recent visits by two US envoys.

The Sudanese leader received a formal state welcome Tuesday as he arrived for two days of talks in Ethiopia, his sixth foreign visit since being indicted by the International Criminal Court last month. After meeting with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a defiant Mr. Bashir said the war crimes indictments would have no effect on his travel plans.

"With regard to the ICC, we consider this issue pertains to those people behind the decision," said Omar Hassan al-Bashir. "For us this decision is of no value and will not affect movement of the president or any Sudanese officials."

Mr. Bashir told reporters two recent US visits, one by President Obama's special envoy J. Scott Gration and the other by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Senator John Kerry, had set a new tone in relations between Washington and Khartoum.

Reports say Gration's mission involved  persuading Sudan to resolve the gap in aid deliveries in Darfur following its expulsion of several foreign humanitarian groups.  

Senator Kerry had gone in search of ways to push forward a hoped-for Darfur peace package. He was quoted during the trip as saying the ICC indictment had complicated efforts to resolve the conflict.

Mr. Bashir said neither envoy had raised the subject of the indictments.

"You can add it to the ICC issue, and to assure you that the ICC issue has never come up during our talks with the American administration's envoys," he said.

Despite signs of a thaw in the bilateral relationship, U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Yamamoto joined European and many African envoys in staying away from the airport welcoming ceremonies. Several also declined to attend a state dinner in Mr. Bashir's honor.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi led the welcome for his Sudanese neighbor. The two countries share a 3.000 - kilometer long border, and their two days of talks are covering some contentious issues.

But standing beside Mr. Bashir, Prime Minister Meles acknowledged the need to resolve the issue of the war crimes indictments.

"The African Union has taken a position on the matter, which is that it thinks the ICC indictment is very unwelcome and needs to be deferred, and we support the African Union position on the matter as Ethiopia," said Meles Zenawi. "And so in practical terms, it hasn't affected our relationship with Sudan. Nevertheless, we recognize that this issue is hanging in the cloud and needs to be removed one way or another."

More than 30 of Africa's 50 plus countries are members of the ICC, but African leaders at their last summit unanimously expressed solidarity with President Bashir. He told reporters the strong show of support from the AU, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference had been a positive experience.

Nevertheless, ICC prosector Luis Moreno Ocampo recently expressed confidence the Sudanese leader would eventually face justice. Mr. Bashir is the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC, which was created by the Rome Statute in 2002.

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