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US Laments Sudanese Inflexibility Over Darfur Force

The United States said Friday it is not abandoning its drive for a U.N. peacekeeping force to replace the African Union force in Darfur despite what it says is Sudanese intransigence on the issue. Sudan is also blocking a visit by the Bush administration's new envoy for Darfur, Andrew Natsios.

The Sudanese government has been unequivocal in its refusal to accept the U.N. force, and the United Nations' special envoy to Sudan, Jan Pronk, says Khartoum is unlikely to admit the force anytime soon.

But the Bush administration says it will not relent in its diplomatic campaign for the peacekeeping upgrade and is urging other governments to follow the U.S. lead.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said keeping the current African Union observer mission in place in Darfur is not an adequate substitute for a full-scale U.N. peacekeeping force.

"I don't think that there is a substitute for an international force at this point," he said. "Certainly we're not going to throw in the towel on getting an international force into Sudan. It's some tough diplomacy and the Sudanese government is intransigent at the moment. But just because it's hard, it doesn't mean we're going to give up. And neither should the rest of the international community."

McCormack said the world community clearly stated its will last month, when the U.N. Security Council voted to upgrade the current 7,000 member AU mission with a United Nations force three times as large.

He said the U.N. force would be better funded and more robust than the African Union mission, which has been financially strapped and hard-pressed to provide security for international relief efforts in Darfur.

McCormack noted that Sudan's consent for the new force had been invited, but not required, by the Security Council. Thus far, there has been no move to introduce the force against Sudan's wishes or to otherwise punish the Khartoum government for its position.

But in a Darfur policy address Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Sudanese government faces a choice between cooperation and confrontation and will bear the consequences if it continues to undermine efforts to reinforce Darfur peacekeeping.

In a related development, the State Department said the Bush administration's new special envoy for Darfur, Andrew Natsios, has not been granted a visa to visit Sudan. And it said U.S. diplomats posted in that country are being prevented from traveling beyond 25 kilometers from Khartoum, effectively barring visits to Darfur.

Spokesman McCormack would not discuss the reasons behind the travel curbs, referring questions to Sudanese authorities.

The Washington Post reported Thursday the move was retaliation for travel limits placed on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his entourage when he came to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly last week.

Officials here said Friday the restrictions placed on the Sudanese leader and his team had been a mistake and that the U.S. embassy in Khartoum had already apologized for the error.