The State Department has reaffirmed administration support for U.S. Sudan envoy Scott Gration in the face of a call by a key Republican congressman Wednesday for other top officials to take over the Sudan policy role. Gration is in Sudan on his first visit there since disputed elections last month.
The State Department says Gration continues to have the full confidence and support of the Obama administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - this, in the face of heavy criticism of Gration by Sudan activists and a key member of Congress.
In a letter to President Obama, a senior Republican Congressman - Frank Wolf of Virginia - urged Mr. Obama to put Secretary Clinton and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice in control of he termed a languishing U.S. policy toward Sudan.
Wolf criticized efforts by Gration, a retired U.S. Air Force General to engage the Sudanese government of President Omar al-Bashir. He said Gration has failed to recognize the true nature of the Sudanese leader, who is accused of crimes against humanity in Darfur.
"What we're asking is that Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice take this policy back into the head office, " said Congressman Wolf. "Rice knows this policy. I worked with Susan Rice when she was in the Clinton administration. She is tough, pragmatic and understands the whole issue of Darfur, the north-south agreement. But the Secretary has got to start engaging."
A coalition of 25 Sudan and Darfur activist groups endorsed Wolf's appeal, voicing concern in a joint statement about what was termed the administration's weak implementation of its stated Sudan policy.
But briefing reporters, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley reaffirmed administration backing for Gration, who began a trip to Sudan Monday to assess the situation in the aftermath of elections last month marred by boycotts and fraud allegations.
The United States acknowledged the elections did not meet international standards though the White House said they were none-the-less an essential step in Sudan's north-south peace process under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
That process is to be climaxed by a referendum in southern Sudanese regions next January on whether the already-autonomous south will become an independent country.
Spokesman Crowley said Gration's mission now is to help the Sudanese parties climb what he termed a very steep hill to prepare for the referendum, and that time is of the essence.
"There's no time to waste," said P.J. Crowley. "There's a lot of very complex and important issues that have to be resolved: border demarcation, how to resolve and share energy resources within Sudan. So that has been our focus. Scott Gration has helped us shape this policy. And he has the full confidence of the administration and the Secretary of State."
Crowley said a vote for an independent southern Sudan is a probability and that much needs to be done to prepare for the birth of a new state, which would occur six months after the voting.
He said Gration met in the southern regional capital Juba Wednesday with the newly re-elected southern Sudanese president Salva Kir Mayardit, and will visit the troubled western Darfur region Thursday to meet United Nations and African Union officials.
Gration began the trip in Khartoum, though he has shunned direct meetings with President al-Bashir amid the war crimes charges against him by the International Criminal Court.