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Negroponte Outlines Latest Efforts to Deal with Darfur Crisis

April 24, 2007 at 6:35 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: More than 200,000 people have died and more than 2 million people have been displaced in the ongoing conflict and genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Last week, in a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, President Bush renewed the threat of sanctions against the Sudanese government.

For an update on the political and diplomatic efforts on the ground, we turn to Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, who has just returned from a tour of the region. He joins us from the State Department.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome.

JOHN NEGROPONTE, Deputy Secretary of State: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: You have just returned. It’s been nearly a year since last May’s brokered agreement with the Sudanese government and the rebel groups there. What has happened since then?

JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well, I think, regrettably, Gwen, the situation has not improved. In fact, I visited an internally displaced person’s camp in Darfur whose population had doubled since the signing of the peace accord last May.

Security hasn’t improved, either. The government has not disarmed these Arab militias, which could not exist without government support and financing. And there’s been little progress towards the acceptance by the government of Sudan of additional international peacekeeping forces, which are really urgently needed to help stabilize the situation in the Darfur region.

Meeting with President Bashir

John Negroponte
Deputy Secretary of State
He felt that the United Nations had only a minimal role to play in the Darfur situation, that basically this should be handled by the African Union, and the United Nations should simply write a check to support the international union forces.

GWEN IFILL: The government of Sudan, of course, is headed by President Omar Bashir, who you met with. What did he tell you? You came back saying you were discouraged after your meeting. What did he tell you when you asked him about these things?

JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well, I think the main thing that he indicated was that he felt that the United Nations had only a minimal role to play in the Darfur situation, that basically this should be handled by the African Union, and the United Nations should simply write a check to support the international union forces.

Our position, and the international community's position, on the other hand, is that the African Union forces in and of themselves are not adequate to the task and that a peacekeeping mission, to be effective, must be conducted according to United Nations' practices and standards, and a much more robust force is needed there on an urgent basis.

Right now, there are 5,000 African Union forces in the Darfur region -- military forces, that is -- and we believe that that number should be somewhere between 17,000 and 20,000, not just 5,000.

GWEN IFILL: If President Bashir were to decide tomorrow to go along with your suggestion, which it doesn't look like he's about to do, how do you know that he would keep any of the promises he's made since there have been so many made and broken before?

JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well, that's an excellent question. And so what he says would not be sufficient in and of itself. We have quite long experience with commitments of this kind undertaken in the past and then not fulfilled.

So I think we would also want to insist on full and prompt implementation. And for us, the test is not the commitment in and of itself or the piece of paper that is signed, but the fact of improvement in the situation on the ground and the full-fledged implementation of the undertakings that have been put forward.

A range of sanctions

John Negroponte
Deputy Secretary of State
The president did outline a number of different sanctions, of naming additional individuals who would be blacklisted, if you will, the possibility of preventing the Sudanese air force from carrying out its activities over the Darfur area.

GWEN IFILL: You have used strong language about this situation since you've been back. You said the government gives the impression of being guilty of a deliberate campaign of intimidation, and you've also said time is running out. When you say "time," what do you mean, days, weeks, months?

JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well, as the president said, he outlined a number of possible steps that he would take if the situation was not dramatically improved in the near future. I hesitate to put a specific timeline on this, but I would say it's a matter of weeks.

GWEN IFILL: So when you say steps, you mean sanctions, you mean forbidding U.S. companies from doing business with businesses controlled by the government of Sudan?

JOHN NEGROPONTE: It would be -- the president did outline a number of different sanctions, of naming additional individuals who would be blacklisted, if you will, the possibility of preventing the Sudanese air force from carrying out its activities over the Darfur area, and a whole range of other possible steps.

Extensive dialogue with China

John Negroponte
Deputy Secretary of State
[China] appreciate[s] the importance of this situation and they, along with us, have worked hard to impress upon the government of Sudan the importance of Sudan accommodating the wishes and demands of the international community in regard to Darfur.

GWEN IFILL: While you were traveling in Africa, you also went to Mauritania, where you met with an assistant foreign secretary from China. Are part of these steps also to ask countries like China or to demand of countries like China, which trade with Sudan, which do business with Sudan, to also for them to impose sanctions, as well?

JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well, if it came to -- and the president did mention the fact that we would begin consulting with other members of the Security Council of the United Nations about the possibility of an additional U.N. Security Council resolution that would impose additional sanctions on Sudan, so that's one possibility.

Also, with respect to China, I would say that we have had an extensive dialogue with officials from that country with respect to the situation in Darfur. The president has even spoken to the premier of China with respect to our concern about Darfur.

And I think that we have an agreement, an understanding with China about the importance of impressing upon the authorities of the Sudan the importance of them coming into compliance with the wishes and demands of both the international community and the people in Darfur themselves, who are so tragically affected by this situation.

GWEN IFILL: Let me get that clear. You have an understanding with China that they, too, would impose sanctions?

JOHN NEGROPONTE: No, I didn't mean to imply that they've agreed to sanctions. What I meant to say is that they appreciate the importance of this situation and they, along with us, have worked hard to impress upon the government of Sudan the importance of Sudan accommodating the wishes and demands of the international community in regard to Darfur.

The role of the United Nations

John Negroponte
Deputy Secretary of State
This is a package. It's a package that needs to be dealt with as a whole. And what we are seeking at the moment is for Sudan to agree, not only to the first and second elements of the package, but to all three.

GWEN IFILL: And in regards to the United Nations, with the new secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, is the one who asked for a little bit of extra time to make a diplomatic solution work, do you sense that there is any appetite at the United Nations for sanctions or for a new resolution?

JOHN NEGROPONTE: Well, I think we'll have to wait and see. I think that, certainly, the members of the Security Council and the secretary general have all agreed already that there should be this three-phase package with respect to international peacekeeping efforts in Darfur.

That is to say, a light support package, which is already in the process of being implemented; a heavy support package, which would be sort of enabling elements, designed to buttress the African Union forces that are already there; and then, the African Union-United Nations hybrid group, which would be the 10,000 or 12,000, 10,000 or so additional peacekeepers, who we would visualize sending to the Darfur area on an urgent basis.

I think the important point to stress here is that this is a package. It's a package that needs to be dealt with as a whole. And what we are seeking at the moment is for Sudan to agree, not only to the first and second elements of the package, but to all three.

GWEN IFILL: Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, thank you very much for joining us.

JOHN NEGROPONTE: Thank you.