WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States plans deeper engagement with Sudan’s government, rather than further isolating Khartoum as President Barack Obama advocated last year, a U.S. official said on Saturday.
The policy change envisages a mix of “incentives and pressures,” but there are no immediate plans to ease sanctions on Khartoum, which the United States has accused of genocide in the war-ravaged western Darfur region, the official said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was due to unveil the new approach on Monday but there could still be changes, said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Some human rights groups, frustrated by the world’s failure to end the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, have expressed disappointment at Washington’s failure to take the tough line on Sudan that Obama supported during his campaign.
The United Nations estimates that as many as 300,000 people have died and more than two million have been driven from their homes in Darfur since 2003, when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government. Khartoum puts the death toll closer to 10,000.
The planned policy change reflects the beliefs of Scott Gration, whom Obama appointed in March as a special envoy Sudan, the U.S. official said.
Gration has argued that Sudan’s many problems can only be resolved with the cooperation of the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. “His point has been that you are not going to be able to bring peace to Sudan unless you work with Bashir,” the official said.
In March, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Bashir for war crimes.
The U.S. official said he did not expect direct talks with Bashir, but that “my understanding is that the administration is not planning any immediate lifting of sanctions.”
The intent was to test Khartoum’s willingness to take steps to end the conflict in Darfur and implement a 2005 North-South peace agreement on a specific timeline before there is any move toward dropping sanctions, the official said.
“Getting off the terrorism list is something that could happen if and only if they have taken the right steps,” he said, referring to a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
“The issue is not engagement or non-engagement, it is the terms of engagement,” said Jerry Fowler, President of the Save Darfur Coalition. “The burden of proof is on the government of Sudan. There must be concrete and lasting progress before relations can improve.”
During his campaign last year, Obama called the violence in Darfur genocide and a “collective stain on our national and human conscience.” He said he wanted stiffer sanctions on the Khartoum government.
In January, Clinton said the Obama administration was considering the creation of no-fly zones and other sanctions. But in July, Gration told lawmakers in Congress that sanctions against Sudan were counterproductive and that he did not know of any intelligence to justify Sudan remaining on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed; editing by Chris Wilson