Top State Department officials have told a senior Sudanese envoy that any improvement in bilateral relations, or easing of U.S. sanctions on Sudan, depends on the Khartoum government's follow-through with peacekeeping commitments for Darfur. Sudanese Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Al-Samani Al-Wasila met Thursday with Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The Washington visit by Al-Wasila drew little public attention. But the second-ranking Sudanese foreign ministry official had talks with several senior Bush administration figures, capped by a meeting Thursday with Deputy Secretary Negroponte, the coordinator of U.S.-Sudan policy.
U.S. officials say Sudan requested the Washington meetings, in part because the Khartoum government feels that it has not been given enough credit for agreeing to the deployment of a new international peacekeeping force in Darfur.
The so-called hybrid force of some 26,000 United Nations and African Union troops was approved by the U.N. Security Council at the end of July, and is to take the place of a hard-pressed AU observer mission in Darfur.
Sudan's acceptance of the force came after many months of negotiations and international pressure, including U.S. economic sanctions on Sudan imposed in June.
In a talk with reporters on the Sudanese envoy's visit, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said the United States welcomes Sudan's acceptance of the hybrid force, but said it should have happened much sooner.
He also said the real test of Sudan's good faith is not the agreement to accept the force, but its actual deployment, as well as efforts to resolve the political disputes underlying the Darfur conflict.
"Certainly, we do give the Sudanese government credit for reaching these accords," Casey said. "But what we and everyone else in the international community need to see is not just an agreement, but [to] see an actual deployment happen, see discussions move forward towards a political resolution and see the kind of progress on the ground that we all need to do to make sure that the suffering of the people in Darfur ends."
Casey said he sees a lot of possibility and potential for the U.S.-Sudanese relationship in the future, but that it is difficult to envisage how progress can be made without real changes for the better in Darfur.
The spokesman also said that, in the talks with Al-Wasila, U.S. officials stressed the need for full implementation of the 2005 peace accord on Sudan's North-South conflict, from which Casey said there are still a number of outstanding issues.
U.S. officials have long held that the revenue and power-sharing terms of the North-South accord can be a model for a political resolution of the Darfur conflict.
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when local rebels seeking greater autonomy took up arms against the Khartoum government, which responded by backing Arab militias in a scorched-earth campaign in the remote western region.
The conflict has led to the deaths of some 200,000 people and displaced more than 2 million.
U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-moon begins a mission to the region next week to try to smooth the way for the hybrid force.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in an unusual joint newspaper commentary Friday, urged the Sudanese government and Darfur rebels to engage fully in peace talks. They warned of further sanctions against those who continue to fight or obstruct a political solution.