WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration, after months of fierce internal debate, outlined a new approach Monday to settling the conflicts in Sudan, asserting a moral obligation to end "a vast sea of human misery" and a need to prevent the African nation from serving as a haven for terrorists.
The new policy rests on offering incentives for the Sudanese government to end the violence and threatening stronger pressures if it does not. While emphasizing the role of diplomacy, it is a less accommodating approach than the White House's own special envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, had been advocating.
President Barack Obama issued a statement saying the U.S. and international community must act "with a sense of urgency and purpose" to seek an end to conflict, human rights abuses and genocide in Sudan's Darfur region. While promising a diplomatic push, he also said he would renew existing sanctions on Sudan this week.
U.S. humanitarian groups embraced the new policy with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Some questioned why it took so long to craft.
"With an administration that is unified in its commitment to these priorities and to leading the international community in active engagement on all of these fronts, we believe that lasting peace in Sudan is well in reach," said Ut Messanger, president of the American Jewish World Service, a human rights group.
Jerry Fowler, president of the private Save Darfur Coalition, said the president had put his administration back on course to a more effective policy, but he said Obama must become personally engaged.
"We need to see substantial personal involvement from President Obama; his presidency is the game-changer here," Fowler said.
John Prendergast, head of an anti-genocide program at the Center for American Progress, a think tank, called the Obama policy balanced and encouraged but added, "It's meaningless until implemented."
The new policy was announced in a joint appearance at the State Department by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.N. ambassador Susan Rice and Gration. Obama was not present.
Clinton stressed that the administration realizes the difficulty of the effort and the need for international coordination.
"Sitting on the sidelines is not an option," Clinton said. "It is up to us and our partners in the international community to make a concerted and sustained effort to help bring lasting peace and stability to Sudan and avoid more of the conflict that has produced a vast sea of human misery and squandered the potential and security of a vital region of the world."
Rice stressed that the unspecified incentives Washington could offer will have to be earned.
"There will be no rewards for the status quo, no incentives without concrete and tangible progress," Rice said. "There will be significant consequences for parties tht acsldeorsipl tad til.'
Gaton areird irForcemaor general, has been at odds with Rice by arguing in public for a less strict line toward President Omar al-Bashir, whom Gration sees as the key to resolving the situation in Darfur.
The International Criminal Court issued an international arrest warrant against al-Bashir last March. He is the first sitting head of state to be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity by the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal since it was established in 2002. The court accused him of orchestrating a campaign of murder, torture, rape and forced expulsions in Sudan's western Darfur region, but said there was insufficient evidence to merit charging him with genocide.
Under the new Obama policy, U.S. officials will not talk directly with al-Bashir but will have contacts with others in his government to discuss peace for Darfur and implementation of a 2005 provisional peace deal between the partially autonomous southern Sudan and the Khartoum government in the north.
Al-Bashir's government is designated a "state sponsor of terrorism" by the State Department.
Obama said that while working for peace in Sudan, his administration also will "work aggressively to ensure that Sudan does not provide a safe haven for international terrorists."
Clinton also cited the threat of terrorism.
"An unstable Sudan not only jeopardizes the future of the 40 million people there," she said. "It can also be an incubator of violence and instability in an already volatile region, it can provide a safe haven for international terrorits and rige nohe hmaitrin atstope ha Sda, tsneighbors, and the world cannot afford."
In Khartoum, Ghazi Salah Eddin Atabani, a senior adviser to al-Bashir and the government's point man on Darfur, appeared on Sudanese TV and contrasted the new U.S. policy with its more "extremist" past.
"We hope that this will end the debate among U.S. officials and we hope that now they will think with one mind and speak with one tongue," he said.
Atabani also said that while the U.S. policy showed "an important development" by staying away from spelling out new sanctions, he said it was regrettable that the administration still refers to genocide in Darfur.
The Darfur conflict began in February 2003 when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government in Khartoum, claiming discrimination and neglect. U.N. officials say the war has claimed at least 300,000 lives from violence, disease and displacement.