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US Official Warns of 'Downward Spiral' in Sudan

The number two official in the State Department has reaffirmed Washington's commitment to humanitarian relief in Sudan's Darfur region, and overall peace efforts in Sudan. Testimony on this and other international issues by Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick came at a congressional committee meeting Wednesday.

Mr. Zoellick recently returned from an overseas trip which, in addition to Europe, included a visit to Darfur.

Last year, both houses of Congress, as well as then Secretary of State Colin Powell, declared genocide had been committed by Arab militias with support from the Sudanese government in Khartoum.

In testimony to the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee, Mr. Zoellick reviewed U.S. contributions to humanitarian needs in Darfur, and neighboring Chad, where thousands of refugees are located.

In 2005, such aid was $357 million. The Bush administration wants Congress to approve $790 million for 2006 for aid to refugees, support for African Union peacekeeping, and to help implement the North-South agreement between Khartoum and southern rebels.

Mr. Zoellick reiterated the importance the United States places on helping strengthen African Union peacekeeping forces, adding Sudan in general stands at a crossroads. "You've got the Darfur humanitarian situation, but basically that is trying to hold the situation from getting worse, or trying to make it a little better, ultimately you are going to have to have a political settlement there. And to reach a political settlement you're going to have to use that framework that comes out of the North-South accord. These two pieces can either spiral upward together, or frankly if the Darfur situation is one in which the government is not doing what it needs to do to control the militias, then it's going to be hard to end up helping Sudan and you have a downward spiral," he said.

Other issues included Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, Iraq and Afghanistan, and U.S. relations with China.

On North Korea, Mr. Zoellick says the United States is following up on Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's recent visit to Beijing to see what else China can do in negotiations on multi-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, as well as proliferation.

Reverting to his specialty on trade issues, Mr. Zoellick adds the Bush administration is also committed to pressing Beijing to reform its currency policies, and for more open markets. "For us to be able to sustain this aspect (of the relationship) for growth, they are going to have to make sure that they are open to all the things that we need to have open," he said.

Mr. Zoellick says while the United States will have to play a leading role on a range of issues, including helping to spread democracy, it will also have to work to build partnerships. "There is going to be no country in the world that will do this other than the United States in showing the leadership to make it happen. We can't do it alone. We are going to have to build alliances, strengthen alliances, we have to do it through our partnerships, and frankly we are going to have to create different types of coalitions for different sets of problems."

That, says Mr. Zoellick, means empowering others such as the African Union to shoulder burdens, while the United States does everything it can to help, along with other nations, on humanitarian needs.