The Bush administration confirmed Thursday it put off the imposition of new sanctions against Sudan at the urging of U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon. However U.S. officials are skeptical that diplomacy by the U.N. chief will lead to a breakthrough on peacekeeping in Darfur. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department

Officials here say President Bush was ready on Wednesday to implement the administration's long anticipated "Plan B" program of sanctions against the Khartoum government.

But they say he agreed to delay imposition of the coercive steps for a matter of weeks after telephone appeals by the U.N. secretary-general, who asked for more time to follow-up on what he sees as positive signs Sudan may relent in its opposition to a new U.N. and African Union Darfur peace force.

In a talk with reporters, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack provided details of diplomatic contacts leading up to President Bush's Darfur policy speech Wednesday.

Mr. Bush said the United States is ready to block dollar transactions by the Sudanese government and put targeted sanctions against more Sudanese companies and officials, if Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir does not comply with U.N. demands on Darfur "in a short period of time."

Spokesman McCormack said the U.N. Secretary General asked that the sanctions be postponed in telephone appeals to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice late Tuesday and again Wednesday morning before the Bush speech.

McCormack said top administration policy-makers decided to accede to Mr. Ban's request despite skepticism about President Bashir's intentions.

"The president ultimately decided that it was important to allow the secretary-general to pursue something that he thought was worthwhile pursuing," he said. "Now, let's be honest. We've been dealing with President Bashir for some time, and to date they haven't come through on fulfilling their promises. So we'll see. We would hope that they would. So the president gave Secretary-General Ban some time. He didn't give President Bashir some time."

The U.N. Secretary-General has said he is encouraged by a Sudanese statement this week that it has dropped objections to allowing a 3,000-member U.N. force, including attack helicopters, into Darfur to lay groundwork for the much larger force of U.N. and AU troops.

McCormack said the United States wants Sudan to accept all phases of the envisaged "hybrid" force of about 20,000 troops and police, which is to replace the hard-pressed 7,000-member AU observer mission that has been in Darfur since late 2004.

Although the Nigerian government said Wednesday it is likely to contribute to the Darfur U.N. mission, the proposed force is still under-subscribed.

U.S. officials say countries are reluctant to commit troops while Sudan is in record resisting deployment. They also say the Khartoum government may be privately warning African countries against taking part.