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US Lawmakers Press Arab Governments, China on Darfur

African-American lawmakers have met with diplomats from China and Arab countries, in an effort to assist U.S. efforts at pressuring the government of Sudan to agree to a U.N. force for Darfur. The U.S. lawmakers also met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about Darfur.

In what some described as tough discussions, members of the Congressional Black Caucus spent more than an hour behind closed doors with ambassadors and diplomats from Arab countries.

Attending, according to congressional aides, were Egypt's ambassador to the United States, Nabil Fahmy, and the Arab League ambassador to the U.S., Hussein Hassouna.

Also, diplomats from 10 other countries, including Jordan, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Mauritania, Morocco, Djibouti, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Donald Payne, a New Jersey Democrat told VOA the lawmakers had, in his words, "drawn our line in the sand" regarding the need for urgent Arab government pressure on the Khartoum government to allow a 20,000-strong U.N. force into Darfur: "We reiterated our feeling that the Arab League has the power, and the authority, and the relationship with the government of Sudan to move [Sudan president] Bashir. If anyone can do it, they can and we asked them to go back to their capitals, (send) a message to their capitals, send a message to Bashir that he has to change his ways," he said.

Payne said he and others were "not diplomatic" in delivering a message that Khartoum's objections to a U.N. force may ultimately not prevent a U.N. force from deploying to Darfur.

He adds there was a clear difference of opinion on the issue of Sudanese sovereignty, cited by Khartoum and the Arab League as a barrier to a U.N. force. "The support the Arab League gives to Sudan reflects I think as much in its policies for good as it may be for inaction, and what we are saying in this meeting, very affirmatively and very strongly, [is] we want an active Arab League, actively and aggressively approaching the Khartoum government that they have to change because people are dying," said Sheila Jackson Lee, who was among lawmakers participating in the meeting.

Earlier Thursday, lawmakers reported on their meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Rice this week repeated the U.S. demand that the National Islamic Front in Khartoum, the most powerful part of the government, drop objections to a U.N. force, adding the Sudan government should realize it faces a "fork in the road" [major turning point] in terms of global patience.

Congressman Payne told reporters he believes chances are good that a U.N. force will be in place in Darfur by the end of the year.

Efforts on Darfur by the Congressional Black Caucus also involved a meeting this week with China's Ambassador to the United States.

The lawmakers say they believe the Chinese diplomat recognized that this was, in their words, a "watershed" moment as far as congressional patience with China on Darfur is concerned.