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Congress, President May Face Showdown Over Darfur Sanctions


Moves underway in the US Congress to impose new sanctions against Sudan have met opposition from the Bush Administration, which is telling legislators the restrictions could derail diplomatic efforts. Two well-placed officials testified at yesterday’s Senate Banking Committee hearing on a bill encouraging US states to divest from companies doing business with Sudan.

A similar measure passed the House of Representatives last July. But Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Finance Elizabeth Dibble and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer told senators yesterday that the curbs would strain relations with America’s European allies, impede their companies, and set back cooperative ventures that could help implement a solution for Darfur. Colin Thomas-Jensen of the Enough Project, which backs the use of sanctions, says Khartoum will make good on its pledges for peace only if Congress and others keep up the pressure.

“We’ve seen this (Sudanese) ruling party, the National Congress Party, is extremely skilled at determining what it can get away with at any given time with the international community. We saw during the peace talks with Southern Sudan that led to the comprehensive peace agreement, Khartoum delayed progress on the talks, delayed signing various aspects of the deal in order to bide time for a military solution in Darfur. I predict the same thing is going to happen with talks on Darfur,” he said.

By loosening the reins on Khartoum, Thomas-Jensen contends, the Bush Administration is anticipating too much progress, even before Darfur peace talks have the chance to commence on October 27 in Tripoli, Libya.

“The Administration has taken the position that Khartoum is actually playing ball on a couple of fronts, on the peace process and on deployment of the hybrid force. However, the peace process hasn’t started yet, and I think it’s too early to say that they’ve started playing ball. And on the deployment of the hybrid, we know, based on our discussions with UN and US personnel, that Khartoum is already throwing out multiple bureaucratic roadblocks,” he says.

Although administration officials told Senators yesterday a new divestment bill would encumber President Bush’s role in making foreign policy, Thomas-Jensen argues that the legislation would impose no new sanctions directly on Khartoum.

“It simply allows voters, citizens, and state governments to decide whether or not they want to have money invested with companies that are propping up a regime that the Bush Administration has accused of genocide, so in that respect, it seems a rather weak argument on the part of the administration,” he said.

Unless vetoed by President Bush, passage of a Darfur Divestment Act by the US Senate in conjunction with the legislation already approved by the House would leave sanctions in place until Khartoum takes action to end four years of violence that have accounted for at least 200-thousand deaths (according to UN estimates) and the displacement of some two million Sudanese from their homes in the country’s western region. Enough Project policy advisor Colin Thomas-Jensen says he thinks US legislators are sufficiently concerned about Khartoum’s conduct to give the 2007 divestment bill a good chance of becoming law.

“I think it has a very good chance of passing simply because the Congress in many ways has simply lost faith in the Bush Administration’s policy on Sudan. The administration continues to say they’re doing everything they can. They continue to cite progress, and yet, from the ground, we continue to see a deterioration. And it doesn’t seem to many members of Congress as if the administration’s being honest about what’s actually happening and what the prospects are for a political settlement and the deployment of this peacekeeping force,” Thomas-Jensen said.