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The Obama administration, capping a months-long review process, Monday announced a new strategy of incentives and possible punitive actions to restore peace in Darfur and assure implementation of Sudan's north-south peace accord. Key benchmarks in the Sudanese peace process are approaching including national elections there next April.
The new policy approach was announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who cited a sense of urgency, and collective agreement within the Obama administration, on how to bring peace to Darfur and salvage Sudan's troubled Comprehensive Peace Accord, the CPA.
A written statement by President Obama said he will renew, later this week, tough sanctions against the Sudanese government over Darfur.
The President said if the Khartoum government acts to improve the situation on the ground and advance peace, there will be incentives, but if it does not, then there will be increased pressure imposed by the United States and the international community.
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Under questioning, Clinton declined to specify possible new punitive measures against Sudan but said they have already been decided upon and included in what she said is a classified annex to the strategy announced Monday.
"We have a very clear measure of whether or not the changes we are pursuing are being implemented," she said "And that is whether conditions on the ground are improving. We have a menu of incentives and disincentives, political and economic, that we will be looking to either further progress or to create a clear message that the progress we expect is not occurring," she added.
The administration's policy review, underway since President Obama took office in January, has been marked by apparent disagreements among key officials about whether the genocide in Darfur - designated as such by the Bush administration in 2004 - continues, and over how to deal with the government of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir who faces war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court.
Clinton, in a new administration formulation on the issue, said genocide continues even though Darfur violence has diminished.
"I've been speaking out and acting on this issue for a number of years. And the President also has spoken out about the genocide that's taking place in Darfur," she said. "But at this point, the focus must be on how we move forward, and on finding solutions. Even while the intensity of the violence has decreased since 2005, the people of Darfur continue to live in unconscionable and unacceptable conditions," said Clinton.
A senior administration official who spoke on terms of anonymity said the Obama administration has no intention of dealing directly with President Bashir, whom he advised to arrange legal counsel and face the charges by the ICC.
At the same time, he said the United States remains prepared to engage with "interlocutors" within the Sudanese government on Darfur and north-south issues.
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The U.S. envoy for Sudan, retired Air Force general Scott Gration, has reportedly been at odds with United Nations ambassador Susan Rice and other administration figures for referring to Darfur genocide as a past occurrence, and advocating an overly-conciliatory approach to the Bashir government.
But Gration appeared with Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Susan Rice at the policy briefing, and insisted there is full unity behind the new approach.
"I just wanted to make sure everybody knows that I fully support this strategy, the comments that the Secretary and Ambassador Rice has said," he explained. "I will work diligently to implement the policies of this strategy, and we really have no option. People in Darfur continue to live in conditions that are dire and unacceptable. We must work every day to change those conditions on the ground," he stressed.
Gration has been focusing his efforts on removing lingering obstacles to Sudan's 2005 north-south peace accord, to be climaxed by a referendum in 2011 in southern Sudan on the political future of the region.
Sudanese officials in the North and South announced Monday that they had achieved a breakthrough deal over the details of the long planned southern independence referendum.
Clinton said U.S. policy is aimed at supporting either a united and peaceful Sudan after the referendum, or an "orderly path toward two separate and viable states at peace with each other."
There's been quick reaction to the Obama administration's new policy on Sudan. A coalition of groups – known as Sudan Now -- held a teleconference Monday shortly after the announcement.
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John Prendergast of the Enough Project says the policy is "worthy of considerable support," but one that needs an international coalition around it.
He says it finds the "right balance between peace, protection and accountability."
Prendergast compares the new policy with past policies.
"First…this moves away from where the U.S. was going with its policy of appeasement…. Secondly, I think that the new policy rebukes the previous public statements that we ought to let bygones be bygones and move forward. And clearly states that justice and accountability is central to peace," he says.
Prendergast says a third aspect is "that it appears to be more honest about the overwhelming likelihood that Southern Sudan will opt for independence. And that the U.S. needs to figure out how to support a soft and a peaceful landing for the new state."
Randy Newcomb, head of Humanity United, says there's reason to have hope, "but at the same time…we have to continue to push and to advocate for engagement from the highest reaches."
More reaction comes from Sam Bell, director of the Genocide Intervention Network.
"For this to become a successful strategy we need the time and the energy, the principles in the next days, weeks months. Is the president raising this with world leaders? Is the secretary reaching out to her Chinese and Russian counterparts, her counterparts in the region? We'll be watching this very closely," he says.
Also, the Save Darfur Coalition's Jerry Fowler says his group will be carefully watching as well.
"Incentives should not be provided before there's concrete and lasting progress…. Second, the U.S. must generate multi-lateral support for both incentives and pressures. And third…we need to see substantial personal involvement from President Obama. His presidency is the game changer here,' he says.