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US Supports Accountability for Darfur Crimes

The U.S. State Department, responding to Wednesday's International Criminal Court arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir, said those who have committed atrocities in Sudan should be held accountable for their crimes. The United States is not a party to the ICC but is understood to have provided some support for its Darfur war crimes inquiry.

U.S official say the prosecution of the Sudanese leader could be a "helpful step" in bringing peace to war-torn Darfur, and it is urging all parties to the conflict to exercise restraint in responding to the long-anticipated arrest warrant.

The Bush administration opposed the ICC on grounds that it lacked accountability and could be turned against American forces operating abroad, and in 2002 it withdrew former President Bill Clinton's signature on the Rome Statute that set up the court.

Nonetheless, in a statement responding to the ICC warrant against President Bashir, State Department Deputy Spokesman Gordon Duguid stressed that the United States supports accountability for crimes in Darfur, which it has termed genocide:

"The United States is strongly committed to the pursuit of peace in Sudan, and believes that those who have committed atrocities should be held accountable for their crimes," said Duguid. "We urge the government of Sudan, armed rebel groups, and all other concerned parties to exercise restraint in responding to the ICC arrest warrant that was issued today, and to assure the safety and security of vulnerable Sudanese populations, international civilians, and peacekeepers on the ground. The United States will continue to support efforts to ease the suffering of the Sudanese people and to promote a just and durable peace."

Duguid said the United States remains committed to the full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on Sudan's north-south civil war, and also continues to support the Darfur peace mission of United Nations and African Union mediator Djibril Bassole.

Pressed by reporters if the U.S. call for accountability meant it welcomes the arrest warrant for Mr. Bashir, Duguid said the ICC action "can be a helpful step," and that the United States will monitor how the case against the Sudanese leader proceeds.

As to U.S. diplomatic contacts with Mr. Bashir, Duguid noted that the United States does not have full diplomatic relations with the Sudanese government and that the U.S. embassy in Khartoum is headed by a charge d'affaires.

He said because the United States takes the ICC action very seriously, any official U.S. contacts with Mr. Bashir would have to be carefully reviewed on a case-by-case basis, being very mindful of the charges against him.

After an intensive State Department investigation, including interviews with Darfur refugees, former Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2004 described government-led attacks in Darfur as genocide. Despite not being a Rome Statute signatory, the United States has provided some support to the ICC in its Darfur inquiry, reportedly including aerial photos of the aftermath of attacks on villages.

Asked about that support Thursday, spokesman Duguid said he was not at liberty to discuss communication the United States may have had with the court. As to whether U.S. officials believe Mr. Bashir committed war crimes, Duguid said he would refrain from making statements that might influence court decisions.

A senior official who spoke to reporters here said the Obama administration is reviewing the issue of American membership in the ICC but that U.S. concerns about potential reckless prosecution of American troops abroad remain.