Sudan: Returned US delegation, lawmakers: 'engagement not working'

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WASHINGTON (17 Dec.) - A delegation of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on Tuesday held a joint press conference with three US lawmakers, making a direct attack on the Obama Administration's policy of engagement with the regime of Omar Al-Bashir. The current USCIRF chairman, Leonard A. Leo, led a delegation on a visit to Khartoum from December 6-10. The commission, which was established in 1998, by law is tasked with making policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. Leo said today that he was distressed by the events in Khartoum, where since last Monday opposition supporters and politicians taking to the streets have been detained, shot at, and dispersed with tear gas. The demonstrations were touched off by a parliamentary struggle over legislation mandated by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). "We watched the CPA being hijacked in front of our eyes," stated Leo.

"So the situation is very dismal and we believe that it is time for the United States to exercise strength. The policy of engagement - 'cookies and gold stars' - is not working. It is emboldening Khartoum to a point where this peace process is perilously close to failure," said the commissioner.

Leo, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, has been an advocate of providing more material aid, including anti-aircraft weapons, to the Government of Southern Sudan. His reference to 'cookies and gold stars' was an allusion to the US envoy Scott Gration's one-time way of describing incentives that might be offered to the Sudanese regime as a means to achieve US objectives. The US objectives toward Sudan are stated in a strategy document published by the State Department in October, though the details of American planning remain classified.

Rep. Donald Payne (Democrat - New Jersey), Chairman of the House Sub-Committee on Africa, said that generally he backs the framework of the US strategy, but added "I do concur that much more must be done on the part of the Special Envoy and the Department of State". The lawmaker, who was present at the signing of the CPA in 2005 said, "We thought that the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement or the Darfur Peace Agreement would bring much desired peace and stability, but we still see millions of Sudanese continue to suffer. We wonder if there will be any justice in Sudan as long as this particular regime is in power. So therefore I think one of the things we need to talk about is regime change". Payne also earlier this month at a hearing had mentioned the Congressional power to make a declaration of war.

Payne's colleague Frank Wolf (Republican - Virginia) said that he convened the press conference because he was ready to break his silence about the Administration's policy. "While there have been times in the months since General Scott Gration's appointment as special envoy that I have been concerned by the direction that this Administration appeared to be taking in Sudan, I refrained from any public criticism not wanting to do anything that could jeopardize peace or progress on these critical issues. But I can be silent no longer," he stated. "I have consistently received reports from people on the ground that this Administration's posture toward Sudan has only emboldened Bashir and the NCP. ...This Administration's engagement with Sudan to date has failed to recognize the true nature of Bashir and the NCP".

Another congressman, Rep. Christopher Smith (Republican - New Jersey), spoke impassionately: "When I met with General Bashir several years ago the only thing he wanted to talk about was getting rid of the sanctions! No talk about the huge, catastrophic, deleterious consequences he had imposed on countless numbers of people in the South - two million dead, four million homeless - or in Darfur. All it was he wanted to talk about was: lift those sanctions. ... Frank Wolf and I - [and] I don't care, Democrat or Republican, when it comes to human rights those labels go right out the door - we're calling on this Administration at the highest level, and that means President Obama and it means Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has to use the gravitas that he has gained from that great award and say 'Sudan is my priority, I'm not going to allow the CPA to unravel and we're going to end the genocide in Darfur'".