U.S. special envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios says the United States has agreed to a request from U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon to delay imposing new sanctions against Sudan to give him more time to press Khartoum to accept a peacekeeping force in war-torn Darfur. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill, where Natsios made his comments to a Senate panel.
Special envoy Andrew Natsios says Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon asked the United States last month to hold off on the new sanctions while he seeks to convince the Sudanese government to allow a United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur.
Sudan has so far refused to accept such a force on grounds its sovereignty would be violated.
In response to a question from Senator George Voinovich, an Ohio Republican, Natsios told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the United States has agreed to the secretary-general's request.
NATSIOS: "I think we need to give him a chance."
VOINOVICH: "What does that mean?"
NATSIOS: "It means if he asks for a two to four week delay, we need to respect that. That is what he asked for publicly."
Natios says the United States is considering adding 29 Sudanese firms - some involved in the oil industry -- to a current U.S. sanctions list of some 130 companies to press Khartoum to accept the peacekeeping force. He said the measures would prevent those targeted firms from doing business in U.S. dollars.
"We believe it will have an effect on the economy, a substantial effect," Natsios said.
Under a U.N.-backed agreement reached last year, some 20,000 U.N. and A.U. peacekeepers are to be deployed in Darfur to protect the estimated 2.5 million people who have been displaced from their homes by the conflict and allow for relief operations.
The committee chairman, Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, expressed frustration that more has not been done to halt the violence in Darfur.
"We must set a hard deadline now on Khartoum to accept the hybrid U.N.-A.U. force. We must plan to impose that force if Khartoum refuses, and to take other concrete steps that could start saving lives now," Biden said.
Natsios said all military options are on the table, but refused to elaborate. He said he would brief the committee about military options in closed session.
The special envoy expressed concern that the Darfur conflict has spilled over the border into Chad, and he urged Sudan and its neighbors to act with restraint.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is traveling to Sudan, Chad and Libya this week to address the Darfur situation.