The United States appealed Tuesday for international pressure on the parties to the Darfur conflict to conclude a long-delayed peace accord. Senior U.S. diplomats are in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to try to help facilitate an agreement, and President Bush supported the effort with a telephone appeal to Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir.
The White House said President Bush intervened in the peace effort with a call to the Sudanese leader late Monday, urging Mr. al-Beshir to send his senior negotiator back to Abuja to try to conclude an agreement.
Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha left the talks in apparent frustration, after Darfur rebels balked at a draft peace accord from African Union mediators that the Khartoum government had accepted.
The White House said President Bush appealed for the return of the Sudanese negotiating chief, and for the Khartoum government to drop its opposition to the upgrade of the AU observer mission in Darfur to a full-scale United Nations peacekeeping force with logistical support from NATO.
The Bush administration sent its policy point-man for Darfur, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, to Abuja to try to help salvage an agreement in the face of an AU deadline for concluding the talks, which have dragged on for two years.
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Zoellick and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer had preliminary talks with AU officials and representatives of the Darfur rebels and the Sudanese government after arriving in Nigeria Tuesday morning.
McCormack said chances for salvaging the talks were unclear, and that it is time for concerned governments world-wide to join the United States in pressing the parties to come to an agreement. "I can't predict what the outcome is going to be. But as you heard from Secretary Rice yesterday, as long as they are continuing to talk, it's good. But it is time for the international community to make it clear to all these groups that they need to make the hard decisions for peace, so that the killing can be stopped, and the people of that region, Darfur and the Sudan, can start to work on a better way of life for themselves," he said.
McCormack said the Darfur issue figured in talks Tuesday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Moroccan Foreign Minister Mohamed Benaissa.
He said Rice stressed the need for the African Union and the Arab League, both of which include Morocco, to speak with one voice in urging Khartoum to accept a more robust U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur.
The draft peace accord for Darfur is based loosely on the power-sharing peace agreement ending Sudan's long-running north-south civil war.
The Darfur rebels have demanded changes in the AU draft giving them stronger representation in the Sudan's central government and better terms for integrating their forces into Sudan's army.
The White House said in his talk with Sudanese President al-Beshir, President Bush welcomed progress on north-south revenue sharing but said more needed to be done by the parties on security cooperation.
Mr. Bush was said to have stressed the need for President al-Beshir to work closely with southern leader and senior vice president Salva Kiir Mayardit to implement the comprehensive peace accord, including its military integration terms.
Signed in January of last year, the north-south peace accord ended more than two decades of warfare between the government in Khartoum and southern rebels.