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Rice Warns Sudan of 'Consequences' for Refusing Darfur Force

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday Sudanese authorities will be held responsible and "bear the consequences" if they continue undermining efforts to reinforce peacekeeping operations in Darfur. In a Washington speech, she said the Khartoum government is at a crossroads in its future relations with the United States and the rest of the international community.

State Department officials billed the speech to the Africa Society as a major address on Sudan. And the message to the policy group included some of the strongest language to date about implications for the Khartoum government if it continues to reject the upgrade of the African Union observer mission in Darfur into a full-fledged U.N. peacekeeping operation.

The secretary called for an immediate ceasefire in Darfur including an end to an offensive by government forces there, and an end to fighting by Darfur rebels who have not signed the peace accord signed in Nigeria last May.

She called on the Khartoum government to "immediately and unconditionally" accept a U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur, as called for in a Security Council resolution at the end of August.

Rice said the Khartoum government, which has refused the U.N. force as a violation of its sovereignty, faces what she termed a "clear and consequential decision" and a choice between cooperation and confrontation.

She said it if chooses cooperation and welcomes the U.N. force into Darfur it will find a "dedicated partner" in the Bush administration. But she said if remains defiant on the peacekeeping issue, it will be headed for international isolation.

"If the Sudanese government chooses confrontation, if it continues waging war against its own citizens, challenging the African Union, undermining the peacekeeping force, and threatening the international community, then the regime in Khartoum will be held responsible, and it alone will bear the consequences of its action," she said. "The international community must make clear to the leaders of Sudan that this is the choice they face."

The envisaged U.N. force for Darfur would be three times the size of the current 7,000-member African Union mission, which has lacked the mobility and financial resources to tackle the violence and assure humanitarian access to the vast western Sudanese region.

Rice said the time for stalling on deployment of the force has passed and the time for action has come, and that Sudan's opposition cannot and will not be accepted.

The secretary did not elaborate on possible consequences for the Khartoum authorities. In a question and answer session after the speech she said Sudan is at a "real fork in the road," and that while the United States wants better relations with Khartoum, it is prepared to use "whatever tools are necessary" to get the U.N. force deployed.

U.S.-Sudanese relations had been on an improving course in recent years, with the conclusion of a peace accord ending the country's north-south civil war and what U.S. officials say has been anti-terrorism cooperation.

But Sudan remains on the State Department's list of state supporters of terrorism dating back to the early 1990s when the country played host to Osama bin Laden and other Middle East extremists.

President Bush offered to review all aspects of the relationship in a late-August letter to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir imploring him to accept the U.N. force.

But the Sudanese leader has been adamant on the issue of late, telling the U.N. General Assembly a week ago his government categorically rejects the force upgrade and claiming that its proponents want to weaken and dismember Sudan.

Rice said in the speech it is not the intention of the United States or its allies to impinge on Sudan's sovereignty, but she said sovereignty must be rooted not just in control of territory but a government's responsibility to its citizens and the world community.