WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The State Department’s No. 2 official will visit Sudan and Libya next week to discuss the crisis in Darfur as Washington threatens tough new measures against Khartoum, the State Department said on Thursday.
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte will be the highest-ranking State Department official to visit Libya since the two countries restored full diplomatic ties last May. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said talks would focus on Darfur and not bilateral issues.
Negroponte will also visit Chad, another regional player in the conflict in Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million driven from their homes since 2003 in what the United States says is genocide. Sudan rejects that genocide is taking place.
The United States and others are becoming increasingly impatient with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for his refusal to allow a joint African Union/U.N. force into Darfur and Washington has prepared a package of new sanctions to impose against Khartoum.
“He (Negroponte) is going to encourage the Sudanese government to give the green light to the AU/U.N. hybrid package which is fundamental to providing security and greater stability in Darfur,” said McCormack.
“I am sure that he will have a direct conversation with the Sudanese leadership over where they stand vis-a-vis the international system,” he added, when asked whether Negroponte would issue an ultimatum to Bashir.
U.S. officials said last week new measures were days away from being imposed but an announcement appears to have been put on hold after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he wanted more time to convince Bashir to accept a hybrid force.
The United States is working closely with Britain, which took over the presidency of the U.N. Security Council this month, to plan a new resolution on Darfur that could include new sanctions.
U.S. measures include adding more firms to a U.S. sanctions list as well as further limits on Sudanese firms doing business in dollars and slapping travel and banking restrictions on at least three more Sudanese individuals.
“If they don’t change their behavior I would not bet against the United States as well as others taking additional steps,” said McCormack.
McCormack said the United States wanted Libya to play a “positive role” not only in resolving the crisis but in encouraging Sudan’s government to agree to the hybrid force.
U.S. special envoy to Sudan, Andrew Natsios, visited Tripoli last month to try to clarify Libya’s role over Darfur and McCormack said Negroponte also wanted to learn more.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has hosted a string of mini-summits and other gatherings over the past two years on the war in Darfur. McCormack said he did not know whether Negroponte would meet Gaddafi.
Gaddafi, who advocates African solutions in resolving African conflicts and avoids reliance on Western diplomacy, regards neighboring Sudan and Chad as his diplomatic territory.