The State Department said Friday it believes the Sudanese government ultimately will accept a United Nations peacekeeping operation in Darfur despite its stated opposition to the proposed force. The United States and Britain introduced a U.N. Security Council resolution Thursday that would authorize upgrading the current African Union observer mission in the area to a full-fledged U.N. force.
Sudan has strongly opposed the proposed upgrade of the international peacekeeping presence in Darfur, with President Omar al-Bashir even threatening to forcibly resist the introduction of U.N. troops.
However, officials here say they think the Khartoum government will eventually relent, and they make clear that the introduction of Thursday's U.N. resolution is aimed at building international pressure on the Sudanese leadership to reconsider.
The U.S.-British draft would upgrade the current 7,000-member African Union mission in Darfur by more than doubling it in size and making it a blue-helmeted United Nations peace force.
The African Union force has had severe financial and logistical problems, and its mandate expires at the end of September.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey noted that Sudanese officials initially signaled acceptance of the force upgrade when a Darfur peace agreement was forged between the government and rebel groups last May in Nigeria.
He suggested that once the global community, through the Security Council, has spoken forcefully about the need for the Darfur force, the Sudanese government will reconsider.
"Once the international community has spoken to this issue, then let's see what the reaction of the Sudanese government is," said Mr. Casey. "Again, I think if you look historically at what's occurred here, the government of Sudan has, when appropriately presented with facts on the ground, responded to them. I think at this point what we need to do is not worry about where they are today, but worry about where they are once we get a resolution passed that authorizes this force."
Casey noted that there already is a United Nations force in Sudan working to implement the country's north-south peace accord, and that the envisaged 17,000-member Darfur peacekeeping mission would be built on the existing African Union presence.
United Nations officials warned Thursday that because of its funding problems, the A.U. force might have to cease operations within a matter of weeks.
Veto-wielding Security Council members Russia and China have expressed reservations about the U.S.-British draft but spokesman Casey said the Bush administration is optimistic about chances for its early adoption.
He said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, though nominally on vacation, has been conducting telephone diplomacy on behalf of the resolution and spoke about it this week with, among others, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing.
The May 5th agreement, hammered out with U.S. mediation in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, was supposed to have ended the conflict in the western Sudanese region, but instead sparked months of fighting among Darfur rebel factions.
The conflict, which erupted in 2003 when Darfur rebels took up arms against the Khartoum government, is believed to have caused more than 200,000 deaths and displaced more than 2 million people.