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US Lawmakers Urge Careful Attention to Darfur Accord


Members of Congress are urging the Bush administration to continue working to solidify the Darfur peace agreement. Subject of Darfur was part of a congressional panel's examination of U.S. relations with China.

Since the fragile Darfur peace agreement was concluded, with the help of intensive diplomatic intervention by the United States, lawmakers normally critical of the Bush administration have praised the U.S. role.

But members of Congress are urging the White House and State Department to maintain pressure on the Khartoum government, Darfur rebel factions and others to help ensure the agreement doesn't collapse.

Republican Congressman Frank Wolf, the most vocal supporter of U.S. and international action on Darfur, spoke this week on the floor of the House [of Representatives].

"The United States now must remain steadfast in this effort," said Frank Wolf. "It is my hope that this agreement will be a stepping stone toward achieving a lasting peace and security for the people of Darfur."

Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick was instrumental in brokering the Darfur accord. He was praised by Republicans and Democrats when he appeared [Wednesday] before the House International Relations Committee.

Republican Congressman Chris Smith is a panel member who also chairs the House Africa Subcommittee.

"Your personal interventions, your tenacity, your attention to detail, your focus was crucial, and I truly believe [that] without it the hope of peace and reconciliation would have remained illusive," said Chris Smith. "Of course, prudent and aggressive follow-up is critical but I have no doubt that you and the president are certainly up to that task."

The hearing focused on the global role of China, including its growing involvement in Africa, and its energy interests in Sudan.

[Republican] Ed Royce says congressional concern goes beyond the question of Beijing's position on Darfur.

"I just don't see any Chinese commitment to human rights, to the rule of law, and all the other positive things we're trying to encourage through the Africa trade bill, when Beijing is dealing with Africa," said Ed Royce. "And so I think the critical issue is that Africa is in the balance. I would like to know if the administration thinks China, on balance, is a positive or negative on-the-ground influence in Africa, and I'd like to know if you think we need a greater diplomatic presence in Africa given this Chinese push."

Zoellick says the United States would like to see Beijing use its influence on energy issues with the Khartoum government to help end bloodshed in Darfur.

"They want to be seen as sharing strategic interests with the U.S.," said Robert Zoellick. "What we have to translate that into is common interests with complimentary policies. They may not always be the exact same policies. We don't have any energy ties with Sudan. China does. OK, let's have China use some of that influence and recognize, right now you also have a government of southern Sudan, there is a lot of oil there. So if China wants to be cooperative in developing that energy relationship, it can help us implement some of these accords.

In what he calls extensive discussions with Chinese officials, Zoellick says he has emphasized the value to Beijing of cooperation, and risks of inaction.

He says he hopes Beijing will not block steps aimed at establishing a U.N. peackeeping force for Darfur.

"I have a sense that if that is backed by the African Union, as I believe it [will be], then China will go along," he said. "China has actually committed to have some forces in Sudan as part of the North-South accord, but it has not yet put them in place. So I think we are all emphasizing the same point here. We are watching. China can play a positive role, lean sometimes in the right direction, but there is a lot more to do.

President Bush sought to use some of the momentum from the recent Darfur accord, committing more U.S. assistance for Darfur refugees, and urging other countries to do the same.