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U.S. Launches New Strategy for Dealing With Sudan

October 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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The Obama administration announced a new strategy on Sudan, which includes offering incentives in exchange for a resolution on the crisis in Darfur. Ray Suarez speaks with General Scott Gration, special envoy to Sudan, for more.
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JIM LEHRER: Now: trying different ways to bring peace to Darfur.

Ray Suarez that story.

RAY SUAREZ: After nearly seven years of conflict in Darfur, at least 300,000 killed and two million more displaced, the Obama administration today unveiled a new policy, saying it wanted to end what it calls genocide in Darfur.

In a statement issued by the president and in an announcement by his secretary of state, the administration said it would pursue a new regime of engagement with the government in Khartoum, instead of continuing a policy of isolation.

HILLARY CLINTON: We are looking to achieve results through broad engagement and frank dialogue. But words alone are not enough. Assessment of progress and decisions regarding incentives and disincentives will be based on verifiable changes in conditions on the ground. Backsliding by any party will be met with credible pressure in the form of disincentives, leverage by our government and our international partners.

RAY SUAREZ: The administration hopes to end the Darfur conflict. It also hopes to implement the 2005 peace treaty meant to end a separate civil war between north and south Sudan.

Administration officials also said the U.S. wants to ensure Sudan does not become a safe haven for international terrorist groups. Sudan was once home to Osama bin Laden and was bombed in 1998 following al Qaeda attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa.

The government of Sudan responded cautiously, saying the proposal had positive points, while bristling at the use of the term genocide.

Secretary Clinton was joined today by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, and the administration’s special envoy for Sudan, Major General Scott Gration. The two reportedly had clashed over Sudan policy prior to today’s announcement, with Gration favoring engagement and Rice advocating a harder line.

SUSAN RICE: There will be significant consequences for parties that backslide or simply stand still. All parties will be held to account.

President Obama’s Sudan strategy is smart, tough, and balanced. It takes a clear view of history, which reminds us that, for years, paths to peace have been littered with broken promises and unfulfilled commitments by the government of Sudan.

RAY SUAREZ: That government is led by Omar al-Bashir, who was indicted last year by the International Criminal Court, or the ICC, for crimes against humanity and war crimes. The ICC allegations Bashir orchestrated genocide in Darfur.

He spoke with the NewsHour this summer.

ICC 'a tool to terrorize' Sudan

Omar al-Bashir
President of Sudan
The African position today, by consensus, is not to cooperate with this court. And it has reached a conclusion that this court is directed against the countries of the Third World and a tool of neocolonialism.

OMAR AL-BASHIR, president, Sudan: We think that the ICC is a tool to terrorize countries that the West thinks are disobedient. The African position today, by consensus, is not to cooperate with this court. And it has reached a conclusion that this court is directed against the countries of the Third World and a tool of neocolonialism.

RAY SUAREZ: Has the International Criminal Court complicated matters or made -- given them moral clarity?

JOHN PRENDERGAST, co-founder, Enough Project: I think that the International Criminal Court has provided a tool, a point of leverage. It's introduced a level of accountability and consequence which didn't exist before.

RAY SUAREZ: John Prendergast heads Enough, an anti-genocide project of the Center for American Progress.

JOHN PRENDERGAST: If the Obama administration doesn't stand up for those organizations, if the Obama administration doesn't stand up for the villagers that are being attacked on a daily basis and raped, then the -- then the International Criminal Court's action will have actually made matters worse.

But, if there is support for the International Criminal Court's stand for accountability, we can actually see, I think, more progress than we would have otherwise, had there been no consequence for the commission of crimes against humanity.

RAY SUAREZ: And, on today's announcement, Prendergast had a measured reaction.

JOHN PRENDERGAST: If the Obama administration is willing to impose a cost on those that would commit genocide to maintain power, then I think we can have a chance of influencing the behavior of those that are willing to do these kinds of things. If there is no cost, if there's no consequence, then we're going to see a return to war throughout the entire country within the year, on President Obama's watch.

RAY SUAREZ: The president has authorized a renewal of sanctions against Khartoum to be implemented later this week.

One of the people who helped come up with the new policy is retired Air Force General Scott Gration. He serves as special envoy to Sudan, and joins us now.

General, welcome.

MAJ. GEN. SCOTT GRATION (RET.): Thank you very much.

RAY SUAREZ: What's different about now, with the announcement this morning?

Establishing benchmarks

Maj. Gen. Scott Gration
U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan
We're going to ensure that every agreement, every decision that is made has a measurable benchmark, a milestone.

MAJ. GEN. SCOTT GRATION: The difference is how we do it.

We're going to ensure that every agreement, every decision that is made has a measurable benchmark, a milestone. And we will be looking at these, as best we can, to judge them in an objective way. There will be meetings every quarter at the deputy committee level, where the deputies from each Cabinet come together and take a good look at what progress has been made. And if there is progress, we have a list of incentives.

And if we have seen an action or backsliding, then we can apply the appropriate, measured pressures to ensure we get the change we need for the Sudanese people.

RAY SUAREZ: Like what? What -- what would be the consequences for inaction on the part of the Sudanese?

MAJ. GEN. SCOTT GRATION: Well, there's a wide variety of things. And most of these are in a list that we would look at very carefully and choose the ones that are appropriate, ones that will achieve the desired effect.

It's difficult to go into it hypothetically, but, certainly, we have gone through and discussed a wide range of options that will produce the desired results.

RAY SUAREZ: But you couldn't give me an example of even -- even the types of things that we would be talking about? Because this particular government has so far seemed impervious to American pressure.

MAJ. GEN. SCOTT GRATION: Sure.

The pressures include those that are political, economic. And you can figure out what they are. The incentives are the same. They can be on the economic front and on the political front. And we will put into effect those measures that will ensure the Sudanese people are able to move forward with a peace.

RAY SUAREZ: Have any of your dealings thus far with the Sudanese government given you any indication that they are susceptible to this kind of pressure? Congressman Donald Payne said in the last couple of days, "I think the only thing the government of Sudan understands is bluntness and power."

Progress in Sudan

Maj. Gen. Scott Gration
U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan
We have seen an engagement between Chad and Sudan that might help end the proxy war, where Chadian rebels were supported by Sudan.

MAJ. GEN. SCOTT GRATION: Well, we believe that there's opportunities to have frank dialogue, and, through the frank dialogue, come up with agreements, and, through these agreements, come up with the benchmarks and milestones.

You know, we have seen a lot of positive things happen in the last few months, things that you might not get to see back here in the United States. But we have seen and support what the government of Sudan is doing with its relationship with Chad.

We have seen an engagement between Chad and Sudan that might help end the proxy war, where Chadian rebels were supported by Sudan and threatened N'Djamena, and rebels supported by N'Djamena were threatening Am Timan. We need to get that stopped, because that is very disruptive to Darfur.

Sudan and Chad are embarked right now on efforts to stop that proxy war. In the south, we had 12 items that were unresolved back when the Obama administration came to office. Right now, we have only two remaining. Granted, they're the toughest two, the census and the referendum. But we have made progress on 10. And we're in the process of implementing those along with the parties of the north and the south.

RAY SUAREZ: It's widely reported that there's broad disagreement inside the administration and that you lost the argument in this new approach to Sudan.

MAJ. GEN. SCOTT GRATION: There's no winners and losers. There was a debate. There's no argument about that. But, certainly, the -- the -- I would not characterize it as all at being divisive. I characterize it as being an honest debate that resulted in a strategy that considers all aspects and, in reality, is -- gives us all the latitude we need to move forward and gives us all the guidance we need to ensure that America's interests are protected as we work in this country.

This is a very tough challenge. The timelines are short. We have a national election in April of 2010 and the referendum only 15 months away. This strategy gives us the -- the tools we need to fulfill the timelines, and it gives us the strategy we need to ensure that we get the needed progress.

And that came after vigorous debate. But it wasn't cracks. It wasn't fighting. And, certainly, the -- the people that were involved in this strategy worked hard to ensure that it was comprehensive and integrated. And I believe that -- that we're all united and we have been united since we came up with this policy.

And I support it fully. And I have got to tell you, the president and Secretary Clinton have been just absolutely superb in giving us the resources, in giving us the support that we need to carry out this mandate in Sudan.

RAY SUAREZ: The Sudanese government has had the backing of the Chinese on the U.N. Security Council. They have newfound oil wealth pouring in to the country. And, so far, they have flouted international requests to stop the killing and the dying in Darfur.

What leverage does the U.S. have at this stage of the game?

A strategy to Secure Sudan

Maj. Gen. Scott Gration
U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan
By working at the strategic level and down, I think we can reach areas where China and the United States can be on the same sheet of music.

MAJ. GEN. SCOTT GRATION: At the strategic level, China and the United States share the same objectives. They need a country that is stable and secure, in order to meet their economic objectives.

We want a country that is stable and secure for the Sudanese people to be able to fulfill their dreams, especially for the next generation. And, so, by working at the strategic level and down, I think we can reach areas where China and the United States can be on the same sheet of music.

We also have a group of envoys that gets together. It resulted from the P5. We now call ourselves the E6. And it's envoys from the five nations that include China and Russia, France, the U.K., United States, and the European Union. And, together, we meet, along with sometimes envoys from the other nations.

And it's through this that we're able to get consensus, that we're able to introduce measures into our governments, that we're able to ensure that bilateral relations take place within the context of a multilateral mandate.

China has been very useful. And an ambassador from China has been excellent, in terms of supporting what we're trying to do to bring an end to the conflict in Darfur. He's been to Khartoum. He's worked in Juba. He's been to Chad. He's been very helpful in helping us resolve those issues that are in line with our strategy.

RAY SUAREZ: But aren't civilians still dying in Darfur?

MAJ. GEN. SCOTT GRATION: Civilians are still dying, but certainly not at the rate they were before. And any death is unacceptable.

And, more than that, there's people living in Darfur in unacceptable and dire conditions. And that's why I get up every day and pray that I can do the very best I can for the people that are living today in situations where women are afraid to go outside and collect firewood for fear they will be raped.

Children who came to the camp as adolescents and are now young men and young women. And all they have known is living in the camp and living off of handouts from humanitarian assistance. This has got to change. They need to have security. They need to have stability. They need to have their human rights restored. They need to have dignity. And they need to have the option to voluntarily return to their homes or places that they choose to live.

And that's we're working very hard to do by -- by working on security, by working on political transformation, by working on restitution and accountability and justice, and making sure that the lives for the next generation is a way lot different than the lives for those who currently live in these camps.

RAY SUAREZ: General Scott Gration, thanks for joining us.

MAJ. GEN. SCOTT GRATION: Thank you, sir.