The Bush administration Monday defended its handling of the humanitarian crisis in Sudan's western Darfur region. It reiterated that U.S. relations with Sudan cannot be normalized as long as the situation in Darfur continues.
The Bush administration has responded angrily to editorial criticism of its approach to Darfur, saying the United States has taken the lead role in the crisis both in terms of political pressure on authorities in Khartoum, and action and humanitarian relief for Darfur refugees.
The comments followed a Washington Post newspaper editorial Monday which said the United States and key allies have been so anxious to get an agreement ending Sudan's north-south civil war that they have "shrunk" from pressuring Khartoum on greater access to Darfur.
The newspaper, which said at least 300,000 Darfur refugees could die without a massive aid influx, called on the administration to press for a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding full and immediate access for aid workers and supplies.
As many as 30,000 people are believed to have been killed in the Darfur conflict, which erupted more than a year ago and pits local rebels against Arab militiamen backed by the Sudanese government.
Scorched-earth tactics by the militiamen have driven more than a million people from their homes, many of whom have fled into neighboring Chad.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said to suggest that the United States has been passive on Darfur would be to completely ignore the recent history of the crisis:
"Who led the charge, who led the effort, to get a cease-fire in Darfur? Who brought the issue to the U.N.? Who marshaled an international effort in Geneva and with the EU in Chad to bring attention to this issue? Who has contributed more in terms of humanitarian assistance to Darfur than any other country? So you can say, you can suggest, that somehow we're backing off from taking a strong stand or exercising every diplomatic tool at our disposal on behalf of the crisis in Darfur, but I think you'd have to ignore all the actions we've taken that suggest the contrary," he said.
Mr. Ereli said that despite the accords in the north-south Sudanese peace talks recently signed in Naivasha, Kenya, Secretary of State Colin Powell has told Sudanese leaders they cannot expect normal relations with Washington as long as the situation in Darfur persists.
As to a U.N. resolution, Mr. Ereli said the United States has been pushing to include language on Darfur in a Security Council resolution welcoming the Naivasha protocols, but that "some members" of the council are opposed to mentioning the subject.
He said U.S. diplomats have responded that to ignore Darfur would be "unconscionable."
White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, briefing reporters in Georgia on the eve of the G-8 summit, called Darfur a "brewing disaster" and said she expects it to be an issue at the big-power forum.
She said the Sudanese authorities bear "a lot of responsibility" for the situation, and that people will look to them to act responsibly to defuse the crisis.
The presumptive Democratic Presidential candidate, John Kerry, also expressed concern about Darfur in a statement Monday.
He said that to its "eternal shame," the world community failed to act a decade ago in Rwanda, and now faces "another crisis point" in Sudan.
He said the United States and others should apply effective pressure on Khartoum to "rein in its militia proxies" in Darfur, allow unrestricted access to aid workers, and begin talks on a political settlement of the conflict.
Mr. Kerry said that since there is no guarantee Sudan will relent, planning should begin now for urgent international intervention through the United Nations to save the lives of those at risk.