The United States said Tuesday it will continue to press for a U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur despite a new statement by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir appearing to rule out such a deployment. The State Department also said the departure of Deputy Secretary Robert Zoellick, the administration policy chief for Sudan, will not impede U.S. diplomacy on the issue.
Officials here say Sudanese officials have made conflicting statements about a U.N. force for Darfur, and that President al-Bashir's new comments on the subject are not being taken as the last word.
At a Khartoum news conference Tuesday with South African President Thabo Mbeki, Mr. Bashir said U.N. peacekeepers have a colonial agenda, and that the planned conversion of the African Union observer mission in Darfur to a U.N. peace force will never happen.
The United States and European Union, among others, have been pressing for the U.N. mission, arguing that the existing A.U. force of seven thousand observers does not have the resources to end the three-year conflict.
They want the force to be at least doubled in size and put under U.N. control with logistical backing from NATO.
The Khartoum government initially welcomed the proposed conversion after a peace accord between it and Darfur rebels was reached with U.S. diplomatic help early last month, but has since back-pedalled.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the international community is not going to "take no for an answer" on any given day, and will continue to push Khartoum authorities to live up to their initial embrace of a Darfur peace accord backed by a U.N. presence. "The government (of Sudan) has gone on record as saying that in the context of a peace agreement, this is something it can accept. We're pushing the peace agreement. We believe we've got the support and the strength of the international community behind this initiative. And this is something we're going to continue to push, and believe it's going to be implemented."
The Darfur accord was reached in the Nigerian capital Abuja May 5 with mediation by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who announced Monday he was resigning to take a senior post with the New York investment company Goldman-Sachs.
Under questioning, spokesman Ereli insisted U.S. diplomacy on Darfur would not be impaired by the loss of Zoellick, who visited Sudan four times in his year and a half as deputy secretary and became the Bush administration's Darfur policy "point man."
He said Zoellick, who signaled his intention to step down several weeks ago, had advanced Darfur peace efforts in a meaningful and tangible way but also positioned the State Department to do well after he left.
Ereli said the White House commitment to pursue peace in Darfur is "rock-solid" and that a team led by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer will carry the work forward.