Bush tightens squeeze on Sudan
His new sanctions Tuesday seek to press the regime but not deepen the Darfur crisis.
| Washington and Khartoum, Sudan
Tougher – but not too tough.
In essence, that may be the policy the Bush administration is trying to follow as it applies new pressure on the government of Sudan to end the fighting in Darfur.
Economic sanctions announced May 29 are an expansion of existing US financial restrictions and reflect US impatience with continued obstinacy on the part of Sudan's president, Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, on allowing international peacekeepers into his country.
At the same time, the US may not want to alienate other nations crucial to any eventual Sudan settlement, such as China. Nor do officials wish to precipitate a further military and humanitarian crisis to which the world community may be ill-equipped to respond.
The new penalties "represent an incremental tightening of the screws," says Lee Feinstein, senior fellow for US foreign policy and international law at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
President Bush first announced the increased sanctions in April.
Their implementation was delayed following a plea from UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who wanted more time for international diplomacy to work.
But Bush has grown impatient with the apparent reluctance of Bashir to stop attacks by Arab militias widely believed to be supported by the Sudanese government.
Last November, Bashir agreed to a three-step UN plan to bolster the current overstretched, 7,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force.
In April, the Sudanese president acceded to the second part of this plan: a deployment of 3,000 UN troops and civilian personnel in a so-called heavy support package.
But since then the Sudanese leader has repeated his opposition to a meaningful African Union – UN force and generally gone back on previous commitments.
"President Bashir's actions over the past few weeks follow a long pattern of promising cooperation while finding new methods for obstruction," said President Bush in announcing the new economic sanctions.
Bush announced a four-step plan. First, the US will "more aggressively" enforce existing sanctions, he said. Second, the Treasury Department will add 30 companies owned or controlled by the Sudanese government to the sanctions list.
The bottom line of these additions will be that most joint ventures responsible for Sudanese oil production will be under the sanctions regime, according to the Bush administration.
Third, the US will target a transport firm accused of ferrying weapons to the Sudanese government and militia forces in Darfur. And finally Bush has directed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to consult with allies on a new UN Security Council resolution.
"For too long the people of Darfur have suffered at the hands of a government that is complicit in the bombing, murder, and rape of innocent civilians," said Bush. "My administration has called these actions by their rightful name: genocide."
By themselves, the new sanctions may be unlikely to change Sudan's behavior, say some US analysts. After all, existing economic strictures appear to have had little effect on Darfur violence.
But if the US move is the first step in an overall international attempt to ratchet up pressure the result might be something else, says Jennifer Cooke, co-director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
The European Union has begun to increase pressure on China, an economic patron of Sudan, to act, says Ms. Cooke. The upcoming G-8 summit could serve as a forum for the US, Europe, and perhaps China and Russia to find some common ground on the issue.
"There are possibilities there to get China more cooperative," says Cooke.
China has already expressed its dismay at Bush's new sanctions.
"Expanding sanctions can only make the problem more difficult to resolve," China's representative on African affairs, Liu Guijin, said May 29.
China could be a significant obstacle to US intentions. A major investor in Sudan oil, Beijing has blocked the sending of peacekeepers without Sudanese consent.
At the same time, it has quietly pushed for that consent, and had announced that it would provide 275 military engineers for the UN-heavy support package.
"The Chinese have already played a constructive role," said Andrew Natsios, US special envoy to Sudan, at an April 11 Congressional hearing.
In Sudan, analysts said that the new US sanctions would be ineffective at best, and could harm further progress on solving the violence in Darfur.
"If the US is trying to punish the government of Sudan, the truth is they are going well beyond that and punishing the Sudanese people," says Mohamed Harun, an economist and political analyst in Khartoum. "Sudanese farmers are unable to get their produce to US markets, there are a number of small local industries that are not able to get access to capital."
On the other hand, even with sanctions, Sudan is still able to attract plenty of foreign investment for its growing oil industry, Mr. Harun says, much of it coming from China, Malaysia, and India. This economic growth allows the government "enough resources to keep fighting in Darfur. So the US administration might want to seek an alternative policy. Sanctions are not working."
Khalid al-Tijani, editor of the weekly newspaper Elaff, says that the latest round of sanctions are "a setback to the Darfur peace process." With a planned meeting of the UN and the African Union next week in Addis Ababa, in which Sudan had been expected to agree to a new "hybrid" peacekeeping force of mainly AU troops with UN logistical support, Sudan may take back its promise of support for peacekeepers, says Mr. Tijani.
"Khartoum has already accepted Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the peacekeeping plan, and this meeting was to decide about Phase 3," says Tijani. "This will complicate the situation and could discredit the whole process. I think this will not help the Darfur region. It will backfire."
UN officials in Khartoum declined to comment on the new sanctions, but humanitarian workers say that while attacks between government troops and Darfur rebel movements have declined in recent weeks, the number of attacks – mainly acts of robbery or carjacking – against aid workers and peacekeepers have increased in a sign of growing lawlessness.
Since October, the UN Mission in Sudan has had to shuttle aid workers around in helicopters, rather than in road vehicles, a sign of inadequate and deteriorating security. The World Food Program, which does much of the air transit in Darfur, has been forced to increase its helicopter capacity and costs by 50 percent, from $1 million a month to $1.5 million a month, because of lawlessness. Lacking an adequate peacekeeping force, aid workers say the chaos in Darfur is only likely to increase even more.