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Senators Call for Increased U.S. Action in Darfur

February 16, 2006 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Since these pictures of attacks on African villagers were sent around the world in 2004, the situation in western Sudan has by all accounts grown only more desperate. At least 200,000 people have been killed and 2 million people displaced in a conflict where local militia known as Janjaweed have attacked civilians and destroyed villages.

Half of Darfur’s 6 million people rely on outside aid for survival, and international observers have said Sudan’s government may be supporting the Janjaweed. The human suffering has spread into neighboring Chad, prompting international officials like United Nations envoy Jan Pronk to declare the response so inadequate that “people on the ground are just laughing.”

Seven thousand peacekeepers from African Union nations have taken the lead in stabilizing the region to little effect.

At the White House Monday, Kofi Annan said the United Nations must play a greater role. Annan, who met with President Bush in the Oval Office, later elaborated in an interview on CNN. He said that any UN force must prepared to respond quickly to new violence.

KOFI ANNAN: And this is going to require troops from governments with capacity, well-trained, well- equipped troops. It should include troops from western countries, troops from third world countries who have participated over the years in peacekeeping. And we all need to pull together to make it happen. And the president is in agreement with me.

GWEN IFILL: Last week, the UN Security Council agreed to commit thousands of additional peacekeepers to Darfur. The United States, however, has resisted sending American forces. Vice President Cheney spoke to the NewsHour about the issue last week.

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: We’ve played an active in terms of urging the folks that are involved in it to try to end it. We’ve supported the work of the African Union and the insertion of peacekeeping forces in there. The president, of course, early on, in terms of the basic conflict between the North and the South in Sudan, sent former Senator Danforth in there, put a lot of personal time in as an envoy.

JIM LEHRER: Hundreds of thousands of people have died. So you’re satisfied the U.S. is doing everything it can do?

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I am satisfied we’re doing everything we can do.

GWEN IFILL: But the Darfur conflict still attracts international attention. At the Olympics Monday, U.S. speed-skating Gold Medal winner Joey Cheek announced he will donate his $25,000 purse to relief efforts for Sudanese refugees in neighboring Chad.

GWEN IFILL: Two senators from opposite sides of the aisle have joined together to call for increased U.S. involvement in Darfur. They are Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, and Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois.

Sen. Brownback was in Darfur in 2004 and Sen. Obama is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Welcome to you both.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Thank you.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: Gentlemen, you both co-authored an op/ed piece in the newspaper in which you called for increased U.S. involvement and you said that the situation in Darfur is dangerously adrift. Sen. Brownback, what does that mean?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: It means people are dying. It means the genocide continues. It means that there’s been inadequate international force in place to be able to stop the people from being slaughtered by the Janjaweed, by militia being supported by the government in Sudan. It means that we have got a bad situation and it has not stabilized and we need to do more to be able to stop the carnage from taking place.

GWEN IFILL: Sen. Obama, to what do you attribute the bad situation that Sen. Brownback talked about?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, essentially you’ve got a protection vacuum. Originally the thinking was that as a consequence of a negotiated settlement between Northern Sudan and Southern Sudan, that you could broker a peace deal between the Sudanese government and rebels. And that would then take some pressure off the people who were being displaced. And we also hoped that an African Union force could ramp up sufficiently quickly to provide some protection. That has not happened.

Essentially the African Union force has never been of sufficient size or force nor has it had the mandate to provide real protection to ordinary Sudanese who are being attacked by the Janjaweed, and there has been essentially no real progress in terms of political settlement. So you have a situation where just recently 30,000 displaced persons as a consequence of attacks are wandering Western Sudan.

You’ve got situations in which you continue to have rapes and assaults on women who are trying to gather firewood. You’ve got 2 million people who are displaced, 300,000 dead and you don’t have any kind of force on the ground that can really provide them the protection that they need.

GWEN IFILL: Now, Sen. Brownback, Kofi Annan was in Washington this week meeting with President Bush and among the things that he was talking about was increasing the U.N. peacekeeping force, something which the Security Council has agreed to at least start the wheels in motion but that might not happen for a year. Is that soon enough?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: It’s not soon enough. Something needs to take place now. That’s why a number of us have been pushing the idea, let’s get NATO involved at this point in time; that there’s a discussion of changing the African Union force into a U.N. force. It’s still going to have to be upgraded in size, scale, ability and mandate.

But in the interim, let’s get NATO involved in this process because every day you wait, you’re going to have more people dying.

GWEN IFILL: If NATO gets involved, Sen. Brownback, I’ll turn this question to Sen. Obama, if NATO gets involved, does that increase the chances that there will be US troops involved on the ground?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, I don’t think that the issue right now is US troops. The issue is US leadership. What we can do is to insist that NATO forces provide a bridge as was indicated by Sen. Brownback. Otherwise you could have a situation, even if the U.N. finally does authorize a larger force, let’s say of 20,000, it may take a year, year and a half to create that force and get it on the ground.

In the interim, having NATO forces there that could be supplied by some of the middle powers, Canada, Australia, others that have experience in peacekeeping would be absolutely crucial. We also need to provide additional funding for the A.U. troops who are already on the ground. There’s been some talk that funding may discontinue sometime this year for that force and if they don’t have any kind of support, then it’s going to be fair game across the board for the people who are being assaulted by the Janjaweed.

The main thing that we’ve got do is use the kinds of political pressure that we can bring to bear on other countries when we really think that something is of our national interest. And this is a situation where not only for humanitarian reasons should we be concerned but situations of failed states like this are going to continue to come up in the coming years.

And if we don’t have an international structure that’s prepared to deal with failed states, genocide, displaced persons, refugees, ultimately that is going to create a situation that undermines a world order in which we have an enormous stake.

GWEN IFILL: Sen. Brownback, Sen. Obama just talked about the need for US leadership. You may know that Vice President Cheney told Jim Lehrer in an interview last week that the United States is doing all that it can. How do you respond to that?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: Well, I think the United States is doing a lot, and I think we’ve done more than any other country regarding the genocide that’s taking place in the Sudan. But it’s not enough. And people continue to suffer in very large numbers, in the millions. And it would not take that large of a group from NATO or a larger group from the African Union with mobility, with a broader mandate, to stop the killing from taking place. So I applaud the Bush administration leadership relative to the rest of the world but still not enough is occurring that it’s stopping this — as former Secretary Albright called it — this rolling genocide that continues to occur.

GWEN IFILL: There are 7,000 African Union peacekeepers on the ground, Sen. Brownback. Do you think the African Union is capable of bringing around the – bringing about the peace that you’re suggesting?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: Not with that size and scale. You’re talking about an area of size of France. They don’t have the mobility. They don’t have the intelligence information that they need. And they don’t have the mandate enough. I think you’re going to need a much larger troop. They have done some good; by being there they have stopped some of the killing and they’ve stabilized the situation in some places but it’s escalated again.

And as the forces against the Janjaweed were at one point in time united, they’ve now fractured and so you’ve got a lot of different places where attacking and pillaging is taking place and people are being driven away from their homes. You need a larger force with a broader mandate and greater mobility.

GWEN IFILL: Sen. Obama, you referred to the need to have – for the US to use its leverage to make other countries does what it ought to do. I assume you’re referring to countries like Chad and Libya and China even. Is Khartoum listening to anyone?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, I don’t think that they’re listening right now because they’re not feeling enough pressure. I mean, part of what we have to stay to our allies and part of what we have to communicate to countries like China is that this is an important national priority for us, that we expect sanctions on Sudan if it is not willing to abide by basic humanitarian standards, that we may choose to freeze assets. We may impose travel bans. We expect support from other countries who claim that they’re concerned about humanitarian issues. And that kind of pressure on a consistent basis in a sustained basis is not something that we’ve seen.

I completely agree with Sam that, in fact, the United States has done more than our European allies, for example, and that’s a scandal. But that does not excuse the situation on the ground. We still have a lot of work to do. We have more weapons in our arsenal diplomatically that we have not yet deployed, and would I hope that the sense of urgency that’s needed remains in the administration.

I was concerned that Under Secretary for Africa Frazer, suggested recently that maybe this wasn’t a genocide after all. When 300,000 people have been killed, 2 million displaced, I think that that is the kind of disaster that merits world attention and world action.

GWEN IFILL: Sen. Brownback, what can Congress do to jumpstart this process?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: We can pass the Darfur Accountability and Peace Act. We’ve cleared it through the Senate. It’s in the House of Representatives. I urge the action to take place there.

There’s been negotiations back and forth of what all should be in that but basically this is a bill that provides for key sanctioned language and aggressive sanctioning taking place against the perpetrators in the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed leadership. I think that’s something we could do.

Second is we’ve got a fund and helping the funding of the African Union force. We’ll have supplemental bills coming through and I’m hopeful that we can get that funding pushed forward there.

And third, I think we need to continue to push this administration and NATO to get much more aggressively involved. I applaud the actions by a recent U.S. gold medalist at the Olympics where he’s going to give everything that he gets out of this to Darfur. There is support in the country, particularly on young people – young people on college campuses to do something against this genocide; we should listen to those urging us and get some of these things done.

GWEN IFILL: And Sen. Obama, Robert Zoellick, the State Department official who has been the most on the ground – four times in the past year, representing the United States in Darfur, was quoted recently at saying if people are determined to kill each other, there’s not a lot the United States can do. What is your — and he is one of the most involved people in this process. What is your response to that?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, the people who have been displaced are not killing anybody. They’re being killed. They’re being raped. There may be great difficulty in bringing back – bringing about a political settlement between the rebels and Khartoum, the Sudanese government.

What we have is a situation in which millions of people have been displaced, murdered, raped and threatened who are essentially innocent bystanders to this conflict. And I think we can’t be cavalier about that. That’s happened before in Rwanda, and at some point we say to ourselves that it is in our interests to make sure that those kinds of events don’t happen again.

It’s also in our national security interest because as things like this occur, over and over again, not just in Africa but potentially in other parts of the world, this not only creates the seeds of terrorism, it also creates the kind of despair that over time spills over into our own country.

GWEN IFILL: Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Sam Brownback, thank you both for joining us.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Thank you.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: Thank you, Gwen.