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Senate Panel Considers Ways to End Darfur Crisis

April 11, 2007 at 5:55 PM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: As the crisis in Darfur continues unabated, the Bush administration has threatened for months to crack down on the Sudanese government with an unspecified Plan B. Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee summoned the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, Andrew Natsios, to testify about what that plan might be.

Senators of both parties expressed impatience. Committee Chairman Joseph Biden.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), Delaware: In December, the ambassador told a group of senators that Khartoum had until the end of the month to agree to the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers. That deadline has long since passed with no agreement by Khartoum to accept the peacekeepers and no reaction from the United States or the international community to its refusal. Today, this committee expects to hear from the ambassador a concrete plan of action.

MARGARET WARNER: New Hampshire Republican John Sununu.

SEN. JOHN SUNUNU (R), New Hampshire: We need to understand exactly what the reasons are for the slow pace of progress, and I think we need to be very frank. If there are disagreements within the State Department or within the administration about the path we should be pursuing, we need to know about that.

Postponing the sanctions

MARGARET WARNER: Since fighting began in Sudan's Darfur region in 2003, an estimated 200,000 people have died and some 2.5 million have been driven from their homes. The Sudanese government in Khartoum stands accused of aiding the Arab Janjaweed militias who are perpetrating much of the violence.

Natsios said today the administration does have a Plan B. It includes sanctions on Sudanese companies trading in American dollars, plus travel bans and foreign account freezes on Sudanese government officials.

But the administration postponed imposing those sanctions, he said, after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asked for another two to four weeks to negotiate with the Sudanese.

ANDREW NATSIOS, Special Envoy to Sudan: As a courtesy to the secretary general, we've agreed to that delay. But there is a finite limit to it. And if we continue to see stonewalling, then those measures are going to be implemented.

It's up to the president. It's his decision to make. But I know where he is on this. He's as angry as all of us are on this and wants action.

But the secretary general requested it. He did it publicly; it's not a secret. And we've agreed to wait a short time while we let the negotiations that he's undertaking now take their course.

'We must lead'

MARGARET WARNER: There are currently some 5,000 African Union monitors on the ground in Darfur, but they are outmanned and outgunned. The U.N. last fall authorized a more robust hybrid force of 17,000 additional African Union and U.N. peacekeepers, but the Khartoum government has refused to approve their entry.

Plan B's delay frustrated some senators, like New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), New Jersey: I listened to you. I listened to you carefully. A hundred and one days ago, you, on behalf of the administration, announced Plan B. Now, two to three weeks more, what does it matter if it takes a little time?

If I was sitting in those camps, I could not stand the counsels of patience and delay. And I hope we get to the point that we understand that. I understand about multilateral action, but at some point in time we must lead.

ANDREW NATSIOS: I agree.

Pushing for military force

MARGARET WARNER: Biden said he didn't understand why the administration wasn't going further and pushing for the use of military force.

SEN. JOE BIDEN: I met with the NATO commanders in Europe. I then spent time with the supreme allied commander of Europe, prior to General Jones leaving.

I was told that we had the physical capability of essentially shutting down the Janjaweed now, that it would take somewhere around 2,500 troops, that if we were to argue strenuously within the confines of NATO for such a force and the imposition of a no-fly zone, we could radically change the situation on the ground.

That does not get you a settlement, but it does have the ancillary benefit of stopping thousands upon thousands of people of being slaughtered and/or left to be slaughtered.

MARGARET WARNER: Natsios wasn't given the time to reply on that point, but he predicted that President Bush will have something to say if the four weeks pass without movement from the Khartoum government.