A U.S.-sponsored draft resolution authorizing a peacekeeping force in Sudan is set for unanimous approval Thursday in the U.N. Security Council. The Council is bracing for a showdown on the politically sensitive issue of prosecuting Sudanese war crimes suspects.
After weeks of deadlock, the Security Council is scheduled to take action on one-third of a U.S. draft resolution on Sudan.
The original draft had three goals. It would have established a U.N. military force to bolster a north-south peace deal signed in January. It would have strengthened sanctions against perpetrators of war crimes in the country's western Darfur region, and established a mechanism for trying war crimes suspects.
But the measure encountered two major obstacles. Several countries, including China and Russia, opposed sanctions. And nine of the 15 Council members want the war crimes cases to be referred to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
The United States opposes the I.C.C. on grounds that it could be used as a venue for frivolous and politically motivated prosecutions of Americans.
To break the impasse that has delayed action while conditions in Darfur deteriorate, the United States offered to break the resolution into three. That would allow quick approval of the peacekeeping force, which all members agree on, while the other - more controversial - drafts on sanctions and impunity could be referred for further negotiation.
But in a closed Council session Wednesday, France challenged the United States on the impunity issue, introducing an alternative draft that calls for referral of war crimes cases to the I.C.C. In a VOA interview after the meeting, France's U.N. ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said he would push for an immediate vote.
"We cannot postpone the question of combating impunity till later. We have deal with it now, and the time has come to refer it to the ICC," he said.
U.N. diplomats say nine of the 15 Council members who support the International Criminal Court are behind the draft resolution.
A call for an immediate vote on the I.C.C. issue could put the United States in the uncomfortable position of choosing between a tribunal it opposes and casting a politically-damaging veto.
But one other veto wielding Council member, China, is not a party to the I.C.C. and Chinese ambassador Wang Guangya told VOA he would push for more time to consider the French proposal.
"I certainly think as far as I'm concerned I'd like to see one resolution put to a vote, not the other one," he said. "On the other one we need more time to consult among each other."
The Chinese ambassador said his country is also solidly opposed to sanctions against Sudan. He suggested there would be no early action on a sanctions resolution.