The State Department says it is seeking clarification of reports Sudan has softened its opposition to new international peacekeepers for Darfur. The reported change of position by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir came as the Bush administration prepared new sanctions against the Khartoum government. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
Officials here say U.S. diplomats will confer with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on talks he had at the Arab League Summit in Riyadh, in which Sudan is said to have eased its stand against allowing a new peacekeeping force in Darfur.
Sudan has long resisted deployment of a proposed "hybrid" force of United Nations and African Union troops in Darfur to replace a hard-pressed AU observer mission there.
But Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said at a summit news conference Thursday that Sudan had given the go-ahead for U.N. logistical support for African peacekeepers.
The development, which Prince Saud termed a breakthrough, came after the Sudanese president held a meeting on the sidelines of the Arab summit with the U.N. Secretary-General, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki.
In a talk with reporters here, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said reports from Riyadh are unclear about whether Sudan is ready to accept the hybrid force without conditions.
He also said the Bush administration wants to hear directly from the U.N. chief before deciding how to proceed.
"It is fair to say that we want to understand from the Secretary-General what he heard," he said. "Is there a change in view from the Sudanese? Is there something in their comments with which the international system can work? Now, I have to caution you that to this point the Sudanese have not given any indication, or any real public indication that they're dropping any preconditions, or that they're are ready to follow-up on the Addis Ababa agreement."
The Sudanese agreed in principle at an international conference in Addis Ababa last November to accept the hybrid force, mandated earlier by the U.N. Security Council.
But Khartoum has since blocked the admission of U.N. logistics teams, frustrating the United States and other supporters of expanded peacekeeping in Darfur.
The reported Sudanese concession came amid reports the Bush administration is only a few days away from announcing a package of new financial sanctions against the Khartoum government.
Spokesman McCormack said whether the sanctions go forward depends on an administration assessment of what he termed "the whole landscape," including the latest Sudanese comments, and whether they actually reflect a change in policy.
McCormack said in diplomatic contacts, the United States assured Sudanese officials the hybrid force would focus its activities in Darfur, and not function as what he termed a "posse," trying to round up alleged war criminals in Khartoum.
A month ago, the International Criminal Court at The Hague designated two men, a Sudanese deputy cabinet minister and a leader of the government-backed Janjaweed militia, as suspects in crimes against humanity in Darfur.
The announcement came after a 20-month investigation by the court. The Darfur conflict, which erupted in 2003 is believed to have led to the deaths of over 200,000 people and driven more than 2 million others from their homes.
Much of the violence has been attributed to the Arab militiamen, who the Khartoum authorities enlisted to put down an uprising by local Darfur rebels.