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Former Ambassador Stresses Renewing Diplomatic Efforts to Resolve Darfur Crisis

November 21, 2006 at 6:30 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: On Friday, we talked with former Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice. She proposed military strikes and a blockade against Sudan. Today, the idea is for more vigorous diplomacy. Margaret Warner has our conversation.

MARGARET WARNER: For that approach, we go to former Assistant Secretary of State Morton Abramowitz, a career diplomat and former ambassador. He’s now a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. He recently outlined his Darfur proposal in the Washington Post.

And welcome, Ambassador Abramowitz. Now, you have called for reviving the negotiating track. How would that work?

MORTON ABRAMOWITZ, Former Ambassador: Well, for three years, actually, I’ve been advocating a very robust approach to Darfur. It’s not on, unfortunately. It is not on. And we want to stop the killing, and you want to devise a way of getting people home, 2 million people warehoused.

And the only way of doing that is through diplomacy, a particularly weak tool with very bad guys, but that’s the only option at the present time, and that’s what Kofi Annan effectively did at the meeting in Addis Ababa. He puts his major thrust in diplomacy; getting a cease-fire, however difficult; and getting a peace conference, a peace process going over the next two months.

Whether it will succeed or not, I don’t know, but right now, given what’s happening in the world, given the divisions in the world, given the way the United States and Great Britain are neutered because of colossal foreign policy mistakes, given the differences among countries, there is no consensus. And the only way to move right now is diplomacy, if you’re interested in dealing with this issue.

Forging a peace agreement

MARGARET WARNER: So you think this agreement announced a few days ago, in which at least Sudan agreed in principle to a somewhat expanded A.U., African Union, and U.N. force. You think that's promising?

MORTON ABRAMOWITZ: No. I don't think that's going to work at all. I'm very skeptical about what has been agreed to. And we don't know what's agreed to, whether even Sudan is agreed to, in terms...

MARGARET WARNER: Yes, it's very vague.

MORTON ABRAMOWITZ: ... foreign forces, U.N., African forces coming. No, I'm very skeptical about that. I wish it were true. I'm skeptical. What I focused on was his statement and all the conclusions that he reached, which was on diplomacy.

Now, whether we can get a concerted world support of that diplomacy and whether we can get the Chinese to buy in, that's very important. China played, I'm told, a very constructive role at those recent talks and encouraged the Sudanese to accept a much more robust force.

So if we can get China, which will not take a coercive approach, but is basically a friend of Sudan and finances them, if we can get them involved, I think we have some prospect. In fact, I think we ought to think of Chinese peacekeepers. A friend of my mentioned that today; I think it's a good idea.

MARGARET WARNER: But now there was a peace agreement signed just last spring. It took effect with great fanfare in early May. Immediately, the Sudanese government violated it; the Janjaweed militias violated it; and the rebel groups violated it. Why would this be any different?

MORTON ABRAMOWITZ: All of that is true, and all of that may happen. I'm just saying that, in today's world, where the world is divided and where countries are not going to take their own robust measures, we have to find some way to stop the killing.

Right now, diplomacy is the only way. I don't know whether the Sudanese will buy it; I don't know whether the rebels will buy it. But I think there are reasons for both of them to accept it. And if we bring a process along and we get a world response which is united -- and particularly get China aboard, which I think is there -- I think there's some prospect. If it doesn't work, then the only thing that's going to probably produce a robust response is massive violence.

Pressure for cease-fire

MARGARET WARNER: Now, China has, as we know, massive oil interests in Sudan and elsewhere in Africa. What is the incentive for China to put pressure on or try to persuade the Sudanese government to accept a cease-fire or a U.N. force?

MORTON ABRAMOWITZ: First of all, I don't think the Chinese would ever use coercive measures such as being recommended that the Americans use. I also think China has a long-term interest in Africa. I don't think they want to be simply the bad guy out. They support very bad governments.

I think if they feel they can maintain their oil interest and they can encourage Sudan government to accept or to workout a settlement -- because, after all, it may be in Sudanese interest to have a settlement, too. I am not sure; that's an uncertain question.

MARGARET WARNER: Just to be clear here, the end game for you or the desired result would be to have some sort of a cease-fire, but that would have to be enforced, would it not, by some kind of robust force?

MORTON ABRAMOWITZ: We would have to have some way of -- absolutely -- of enforcing a cease-fire, and that will be very difficult, and it will require, as I say, a concerted approach. I'm...

MARGARET WARNER: But why would -- but Sudan has resisted pleas and pressure both. What incentive -- what has changed that would make them open to the possibility?

MORTON ABRAMOWITZ: Well, they, I think, would like to have some sort of settlement, maybe a settlement that they can dominate and control. I think they would like to have that.

That may be wrong. I think they want to become sort of free of all of these terrible demands, and they perhaps try to want to fend off something worse that may come. That's what I think gives them an incentive.

I think it would be reinforced by countries like China and others to encourage them in that incentive. Whether we'll be able to enforce an agreement is a fair question.

Hopes for a regime change?

MARGARET WARNER: Why do you think they've been so impervious to pressure? I mean, they're not -- they do some have oil wealth, but they're not a major world power. They've got sanctions. Why aren't they...

MORTON ABRAMOWITZ: Because they see the world as divided, and they know the rhetoric of the world isn't going to be matched in deeds. And so they feel very, very secure in trying -- I shouldn't say very secure. They feel reasonably confident in trying to fend this off by simply saying, "No."

If I thought the world could bring itself to do this -- this is a very bad government. I'd be happy to see it go, and I'd be happy to see coercive measures.

MARGARET WARNER: You mean regime change?

MORTON ABRAMOWITZ: Regime change. That is clearly the best way, but we don't know how to do it, and we're not going to do it, and world doesn't want to do it.

So the question is -- it's not, what's the best approach? The question is, how do you get an end to the violence and how do you get people home? Those are the two principal questions in Darfur. And if we can do it by coercive means, I'd be for it, and I was for it before. It isn't on.

MARGARET WARNER: You mean because the world isn't willing?


MARGARET WARNER: Now, critics of your idea would say what you're proposing will take months and months and tens of thousands of people will be killed and made homeless, as opposed to another participant in this series, Susan Rice, who suggested that the U.N. should give Sudan a one-week ultimatum and, if they don't let the U.N. force in, just start air strikes against their military assets.

MORTON ABRAMOWITZ: Well, I don't think the U.N. is going to listen to Susan. I don't think that's on. I think we have to get real here.

And, look, this is a big dilemma. It's a very terrible moral dilemma. And what the Sudanese have done is obviously very disgraceful and should be repudiated and is repudiated.

The question is not to simply say we're dealing with a terrible moral dilemma. The question is, what do we do about it? And I firmly believe that the only way right now, realistically -- and I don't see why it has to take that much longer -- I can see this occurring in three or four months, if we're lucky -- is to proceed in the way that the world can buy. If I can persuade the world to do otherwise, I would be happy to do so.

MARGARET WARNER: But, briefly, you don't think this is something that the U.S. should do alone, go the military option alone?

MORTON ABRAMOWITZ: I don't think there's a hill of beans chance that the U.S. is going to do it. Look, as I said to you, the U.S. has been politically neutered by these colossal foreign policy mistakes.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Mort Abramowitz, thank you.


JIM LEHRER: Our next conversations will be about divestment and tougher measures against Sudan.