The Obama administration has invited a senior delegation from the Khartoum regime to visit Washington for high-level discussions, just after the State Department criticized Sudan heavily in its annual country reports on human rights.
The Sudanese Foreign Ministry first announced Tuesday that senior officials from the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) had been invited to Washington for consultations. Sudan Tribune, an émigré newspaper based in Paris, paraphrased a Sudanese official citing the "mere presence of diplomatic missions in both countries and meetings of ambassadors" as representing "some degree of dialogue between Khartoum and Washington."
Sudan is among the most-sanctioned countries in the world. President Omar al-Bashir has been indicted for genocide by the International Criminal Court, Sudan has been on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1993, and the United States imposed additional sanctions in 1997 and then again in 2003, following the outbreak of government-sponsored violence in Darfur.
Sudan advocacy-group leaders were quick to criticize the administration's decision to invite the NCP officials to Washington, where they are expected to discuss ongoing tensions with South Sudan, the upcoming referendum in the contested region of Abyei, and the ongoing violence in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
"United to End Genocide believes that the delegates of Sudan's National Congress Party (NCP) do not deserve to be rewarded by the United States government and invited to Washington, D.C. until they stop committing crimes against the civilians throughout Sudan," said Tom Andrews, the president of the group. "It is imperative that in his new term, President Obama evaluates his previous diplomacy towards Sudan, sets strong policy with clear measures that can help end the suffering of the people of Sudan, and hold the perpetrators accountable before offering rewards."
At Tuesday's State Department press briefing, spokesman Patrick Ventrell acknowledged the invitation but gave few details about why the administration believes it's a good idea to host the Sudanese delegation at this time. He said that presidential adviser Nafie Ali Nafie will lead the delegation, but the exact timing has not been finalized.
"We've planned to receive this delegation for a candid discussion on the conflicts and humanitarian crises within Sudan, including in Darfur and the two areas -- Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, counterterrorism, human rights and other issues of concern to the U.S. government," Ventrell said. "We've also continued to express our deep concern about another -- a number of other issues. While we've had some progress here, you have ongoing aerial bombardment of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and some other areas in terms of Darfur that we're still concerned about. So we've seen some progress, but we still have some concerns and we'll raise them directly with the government."
The delegation announcement comes in the same week that the administration announced it was relaxing some sanctions against Khartoum. The Treasury Department announced April 22 that it would now authorize some professional and educational exchanges with Sudan that had previously been prohibited.
Only three days before relaxing sanctions, the Obama administration heavily criticized Sudan in its annual country reports on human rights practices, released April 19, which documented extreme government-sponsored atrocities and human rights violations.
"The most important human rights abuses included: government forces and government-aligned groups committed extrajudicial and other unlawful killings; security forces committed torture, beatings, rape, and other cruel and inhumane treatment or punishment; and prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening," the State Department report said. "Except in rare cases, the government took no steps to prosecute or punish officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government who committed abuses. Security force impunity remained a serious problem."
Other major abuses in Sudan, according to the State Department, included arbitrary arrest; incommunicado and prolonged pretrial detention; executive interference with the judiciary and denial of due process; obstruction of humanitarian assistance; restriction on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement; harassment of internally displaced persons; restrictions on privacy; harassment and closure of human rights organizations; and violence and discrimination against women. Societal abuses including instances of female genital mutilation; child abuse, including sexual violence and recruitment of child soldiers; trafficking in persons; violence against ethnic minorities; denial of workers' rights; and forced and child labor were also reported.
That report prompted a call from the Sudan advocacy community for the administration to employ stronger pressure mechanisms against Khartoum, rather than offering more incentives like visits to Washington or rewards like an easing of sanctions.
"These atrocities and abuses stem from the many conflicts in Sudan, and point to the need for a comprehensive approach to all of Sudan's conflicts," a group of Sudan advocacy organizations wrote in a letter to Obama April 22. "In addition, given the scale of the atrocities perpetrated by the regime, international donors should not provide significant assistance or debt-relief until real and verifiable steps towards peace and democratic transformation are taken."
These groups, along with several members of Congress, also lament that the president has yet to appoint a special envoy to Sudan to replace Amb. Princeton Lyman, who stepped down late last year. The administration is said to be circling around a couple of candidates, but there's been no announcement as of yet.
"This vacancy is symptomatic of a president that has all but forsaken the people of Sudan," Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) said in a March floor statement. "Candidate Obama purported to be deeply concerned by the crisis in Sudan and committed to bold actions. Have we seen a fraction of that concern or anything close to bold action since he became president?"
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Fourteen people were arrested last Friday on the walkway outside the Sudanese embassy. While George Clooney stole all the headlines, Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) was also arrested and recounted the experience in an interview with The Cable.
"Sometimes no matter how serious the issue, unless you keep the public focused on it, really bad things can keep happening and even get worse," Moran said about what he called an act of "civil disobedience" to protest the Khartoum government's violence against innocent civilians in the Nuba Mountain and Blue Nile regions of Sudan.
"The North has conducted a scorched earth strategy. They've wiped out all their fields, they've forced them up into the mountains. They've got no food," Moran said. "And once the rainy season starts, which will be in about a month, that will be it, because you won't be able to get any convoys in. So they will starve to death. And that is kind of the idea."
Moran said the plan was always to get arrested, and the group alerted the DC metro police of their plan ahead of time. First, Clooney and others made speeches in front of the embassy. Then they proceeded up the walkway, which constituted trespassing. After refusing three police instructions to leave the embassy grounds, those who were willing to be arrested held their ground.
"We're just trying to say, look, these are hundreds of thousands of innocent people who should not be forced to suffer and die because of an irresponsible ruler and because of a world that looks away from it, that refuses to get engaged," Moran said. "I think it was the right thing to do, to try to bring the world's attention to a serious situation."
Along with Clooney, nine activists and four Congressmen were arrested. That group included Moran, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Rep. John Olver (D-MA), Rep. Al Green (D-TX), Martin Luther King III, former head of the NAACP Ben Chavis, NAACP President Ben Jealous, Nick Clooney, activist Dick Gregory, former congressman and leader of United to End Genocide Tom Andrews, and Director of the Religious Action Center Rabbi David Saperstein, Moran said.
They were carted off in paddy wagons, processed and fingerprinted, stripped of their personal belongings, and put in a cell together for about 5 hours. They all pleaded guilty to trespassing, disturbing the peace, and refusing to obey a police order. They each paid a $100 fine and were released.
"We needed to get arrested in front of the Sudanese embassy, and since George was willing to do that we knew we would get some media coverage," Moran said.
That was the first time Clooney had been arrested, but Moran was arrested once before protesting on behalf of the people of Darfur, he said. Overall, he considered the mission a success.
"I think it worked," he said. "If we can get some attention focused on this real humanitarian crisis, then spending a few hours in jail and coming up with $100 in cash to bail ourselves out was well worth it."
So what do four congressmen, five activists, and a Hollywood star do in prison for 5 hours?
"We enjoyed talking about everything," Moran said. "There's nothing to read, so we talked, and we all got to know each other pretty well."
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Responding to a call from advocacy groups, Mitt Romney's campaign has released a statement promising to protect "innocents" and prosecute human rights abuses by the Khartoum government in Sudan and what is now South Sudan.
"Mitt Romney recognizes that for too long far too many Sudanese have been victims of war crimes and other atrocities committed by the government in Khartoum and its proxies," the Romney campaign said in Tuesday statement. "In Southern Sudan, millions died as a result of ethnic and religious targeted killings during the long civil war. Among those brutally targeted were Christians and adherents of traditional African religions, Dinka, Nuer, and members of other ethnic groups. In Darfur, non-Arab populations have been and continue to be victims of a slow-motion genocide. And since independence of the Republic of South Sudan, Khartoum has committed a range of atrocities in border regions that have claimed countless lives and displaced hundreds of thousands."
The Romney campaign accused the Khartoum regime, led by President Omar al-Bashir, of inciting and arming rebel groups with the objective of undermining the South Sudanese government, stealing hundreds of millions of dollars of South Sudan's oil money, and impeding the flow of humanitarian assistance.
"Governor Romney is committed to protecting innocents from war crimes and other atrocities, ensuring that humanitarian aid reaches those desperately in need, holding accountable those leaders who perpetrate atrocities, and achieving a sustainable peace for all who live in Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan," the statement said.
The Romney campaign was responding to a call for support from the organization Act for Sudan, an alliance of grassroots advocacy organizations. Last December, the group sent a list of questions related to the events in Sudan to all the presidential candidates. So far, only the Romney campaign has responded.
In November, Act for Sudan sent an open letter to President Obama that was signed by 66 organizations, urging him to ramp up administration efforts to protect civilians and provide humanitarian relief for the people of Sudan and South Sudan.
"We believe the United States is not doing enough to uphold its responsibility to protect innocent civilians from atrocities perpetrated by the Sudanese government," the letter stated. "We, therefore, respectfully request that your administration make it a top priority to provide the necessary protection and change the ruthless political calculations of the National Congress Party."
The State Department tried something new last Friday, answering selected questions posed via Twitter. Today, a Sudan human rights organization that was one of the selected questioners called the answer it got on Sudan policy "unconvincing," "unacceptable," "a broken record," and "condescending."
The Twitter press conference, where State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland will give answers to questions posed over Twitter following each Friday press briefing in January, is an experiment in State's ever-evolving strategy that it has dubbed "21st Century Statecraft."
Act for Sudan, an alliance of grassroots advocacy organizations, suggested one of the five tweets that was chosen and answered by Nuland, but the group is unhappy with the result.
The tweet, sent by @ObSilence but identical to the tweet suggested by Act for Sudan, was: "Why doesn't @StateDept support regime change in #Sudan where government-led genocide continues? Why Syria+Libya but not #Sudan?"
"Well, first of all, ObSilence, each country and each situation is different," Nuland responded. "But I will say that in Sudan, for many years, we have continued to press for concrete, meaningful, democratic reforms and accountability and an end to the violence. We have pushed hard for an end to the fighting in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and a full resolution of the Darfur conflict. Those responsible for crimes and crimes against humanity have to be held accountable."
Nuland went on to say that normalization between the United States and Sudan could only progress when violence ends, and she called on the government to work with civilians to resolve their issues. She also acknowledged that "deplorable human rights conditions and unacceptable practices of bombing innocent civilians and denying humanitarian access continue."
Act for Sudan put out a release today saying that several of its members were wholly unsatisfied by that answer, and believed that Nuland sidestepped the question in a way that downplayed the tragedy of the human rights situation in Sudan.
"Of course, we realize that all countries and situations are different, but does the United States of America have no standards regarding its responsibilities in the face of genocide and crimes against humanity?" said Eric Cohen, an Act for Sudan spokesman.
"In Libya, with thousand of civilians in danger, President Obama rightly authorized limited military action to help protect them, and publicly called for Libya's brutal dictator to step aside," said Cohen. "Why then, with millions of civilians endangered in Sudan by their own government, is the U.S. not leading the international community in its responsibility to protect the people of Sudan, by all means necessary, including military options? Why are we not leading the call for the ouster of Sudan's president and his cronies, who are indicted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes?"
Act for Sudan coordinated an open letter in November signed by 66 organizations to President Barack Obama asking the United States to urgently address civilian protection and humanitarian assistance for Sudanese under attack by their own government. Among other recommendations, the letter asked Obama to instruct the National Security Council to accelerate decisions regarding protection of Nuba, Blue Nile, and Darfuri populations from air attacks and to seriously consider the destruction of offensive aerial assets and the imposition of a no-fly zone. It also requests the immediate initiation of a cross-border emergency aid program to the Nuba Mountains, Darfur, Blue Nile and Abyei regions.
The Obama administration may be experimenting with unique ways to engage with the world through this Twitter press conference, but as this latest scuffle shows, social media remains a two-way street. And the Twitter world can now experience what reporters have known all along - answers given during press conferences rarely fully answer the question, much less satisfy the questioner.
The White House announced today that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice will lead the country's delegation to South Sudan on July 9 to attend a ceremony marking the country's Declaration of Independence. She will be joined by former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Other members of the delegation include Rep. Donald Payne (D- N.J.), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights; Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of State for African Affairs; Princeton Lyman, the U.S. special envoy to Sudan; Brooke Anderson, deputy national security advisor; Gen. Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command; Donald Steinberg, deputy administrator for USAID; Barrie Walkley, the consul general in Juba; and Ken Hackett, the president of Catholic Relief Services.
Notably absent from the delegation: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She was initially scheduled to make the trip, but the Washington Post reported last month that security concerns might prevent her from doing so.
Franklin Graham, an evangelical leader, will also be in attendance. He was supposed to travel with Sarah Palin, but Palin also canceled her plans to attend due to what she said were "scheduling problems."
Southerners backed independence in a January referendum -- though since then clashes along the border with the north have led to growing fears that violence could escalate. Tensions between north and south Sudan are still high over the issues of oil revenue sharing and what's to become of Abyei, a disputed region on the border.
And today the Harvard-based Satellite Sentinel Project released images taken July 4 showing what appears to be an 80-car convoy of Sudanese military forces traveling through the disputed border region of Southern Kordofan. 73,000 people have fled fighting there since June.
The U.N. Security Council will meet July 13 to discuss admitting South Sudan to the international body, making it the first state since Montenegro in 2006 to become a U.N. member.
Princeton Lyman, President Barack Obama's new special envoy to Sudan, left on Saturday for his first trip to the region since officially replacing Gen. Scott Gration, and the Sudan advocacy community could not be happier about the replacement.
"It's an excellent upgrade that will allow the U.S. to be even more effective," John Prendergast, CEO of the Enough Project, told The Cable. "Lyman has both of the ingredients that Gration lacked -- a deep understanding of regional politics and a long record of negotiating experience. Gration had neither of them when he took the job in 2009."
Gration, who had multiple run-ins with both top Obama administration officials and advocates in the Sudan community, will probably be remembered for what some considered a naïve approach toward the brutal Sudanese regime, notably when he said that "gold stars" and "cookies" could be used to affect positive change in Khartoum. Gration has been appointed ambassador to Kenya, and Tuesday he testifies at a hearing that will mark the beginning of what's sure to be a difficult Senate confirmation process.
Obama met with Lyman at the White House on April 1 to congratulate him on the appointment and talk over the road ahead.
"During the meeting, the President outlined his serious concerns over the situation in Abyei and the impact that increased bombings are having on civilians in Darfur," according to a White House read out of the meeting. "The President underscored his commitment to the establishment of two viable states in northern and South Sudan in July. They discussed the urgency of all parties joining the new opportunities in the Doha Peace Process and of elevating the level of international engagement on Darfur."
Lyman will first travel to Ethiopia to participate in talks regarding implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and security arrangements along the border between the two countries. Those talks are being facilitated by the African Union's High-Level Implementation Panel. He will then travel to Khartoum, where he will meet with Sudanese leaders on North-South political issues. Finally, he will travel back to Ethiopia for meetings of the "economic cluster groups," who deal with oil, debt, and other non-security issues. Meanwhile, his senior advisor Dane Smith is set to travel to Doha for the next round of talks on the situation in Darfur.
There are only three months left before the CPA's "interim period" runs out and Sudan will officially split into two countries, following the January referendum, in which the south overwhelmingly voted in favor of separation. But the situation on the ground is reportedly getting worse as the northern government masses its forces near the oil-rich region of Abyei, whose final status is far from settled.
"Troubling is too light a word for what's going on in Abyei," said Prendergast. "The concentration of armor and artillery is a violation of the CPA and the amassing of ground forces indicates that major military action is imminent."
Lyman's first order of business as special envoy is, "to prevent that from happening and secure the wider deal on border, citizenship and other issues" Prendergast said. "That's going to be the biggest priority."
Back at the State Department, a reorganization of Gration's office is also underway. We're told that plans are being put in place to integrate the Office of the Special Envoy for Sudan back into the African Affairs bureau (AF) led by Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson.
On a conference call with advocacy leaders last week, Lyman said he was looking to add additional staff to his team to address issues related to the relationship between north and south Sudan, but no decisions had been made as of yet.
The Palestine Liberation Organization, no longer willing to follow the Obama administration's diplomatic lead, is gambling that its latest drive for a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements will put more pressure on both the Israeli government and the Obama administration.
The U.S. administration, caught between its desire to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table and its reluctance to abandon Israel at the United Nations, has not officially decided what it will do if and when the Palestinian resolution ever comes up for a Security Council vote.
"I'm not going to speculate on how we might vote, but we've made very clear both our policy on settlements as well as our belief that action in the United Nations or any other forum is not particularly helpful," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
The resolution itself, which has 122 co-sponsors and the support of Security Council members Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, India, Nigeria and South Africa, is undergoing several rounds of revision in New York. The Cable has obtained a version of the resolution circulated among U.N. diplomats Jan. 18, which can be found here. Under this draft, the Security Council:
1. Reaffirms that the Israeli settlements established in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace;
2. Reiterates its demand that Israel, the occupying Power, immediately and completely ceases all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard;
3. Calls upon both parties to act on the basis of international law and their previous agreements and obligations, including under the Roadmap, aimed, inter alia, at improving the situation on the ground, building confidence and creating the conditions necessary for promoting the peace process;
4. Calls upon all parties to continue, in the interest of the promotion of peace and security, with their negotiations on the final status issues in the Middle East peace process according to its agreed terms of reference and within the timeframe specified by the Quartet in its statement of 21 September 2010;
5. Urges in this regard the intensification of international and regional diplomatic efforts to support and invigorate the peace process towards the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
The State Department tried and failed to convince the PLO to not bring up the resolution. U.S. officials asked Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat to delay bringing the resolution forward during his trip to Washington last week, the PLO's representative in Washington, Maen Rashid Areikat, told The Cable in an interview. Areikat said the Palestinians hope the United States will eventually come around to support the resolution, but that the PLO had no choice but to proceed.
"The Obama administration cannot tell us not to resort to the U.N. when the international community has failed to stop the illegal settlement activity by Israel which is changing things on the ground," Areikat said. "How long are we supposed to stand by with no results? [The administration] has to tell us what it is they intend to do to move towards a solution to this problem."
Areikat indicated that the Feb. 5 meeting in Munich of the Quartet, which is composed of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia, could be an opportunity to head off a confrontation at the Security Council. However, he didn't say outright that the Palestinians would wait that long before calling for further action.
"They're in no particular rush. They want to see if this can be used as leverage so the U.S. can come in with some other compromise," said Steve Clemons, foreign policy head of the New America Foundation.
But the Obama administration isn't yet ready to come out with a plan for revitalizing the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Clemons said.
"The administration has been working really hard to move Netanyahu on the settlements and to try to push Abbas into a position to sit down regardless of what was happening on settlements. But there seems to be complete gridlock," he said.
Clemons has been leading a drive among foreign policy professionals in Washington to convince the Obama administration not to veto the resolution.
"If the proposed resolution is consistent with existing and established US policies, then deploying a veto would severely undermine US credibility and interests, placing us firmly outside of the international consensus, and further diminishing our ability to mediate this conflict," read his letter to President Obama, which was signed by several other foreign policy professionals.
Daniel Levy, the co-director of the New America Foundation's Middle East Task Force, explained that Abbas is under intense pressure domestically to show strength vis-à-vis Israel, and absent a more aggressive plan from Washington, has no choice but to pursue international support for the Palestinian cause.
Meanwhile, the Israelis have no plans to stop settlement activity, regardless of what happens with the Security Council resolution. But like the Palestinians, they are also looking to Washington to chart the road ahead for the peace process.
"We're all in a kind of wait and see mode to see what the U.S. administration is planning to do," an Israel official said.
Rajiv Shah, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has a message for those in Congress who want to slash development and foreign-aid budgets: Cuts will undermine U.S. national security.
On the heels of a major speech on the coming reforms to America's premier development agency, Shah sat down for an exclusive interview with The Cable to explain his vision for making USAID more responsible and accountable, an effort he said will require increased short-term investment in order to realize long-term savings.
But if Congress follows through on a massive defunding of USAID as the 165-member Republican Study Group recommended yesterday, it would not only put USAID's reforms in jeopardy, but have real and drastic negative implications for American power and the ongoing missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to Shah.
"That first and foremost puts our national security in real jeopardy because we are working hand and glove with our military to keep us safe," said Shah, referring to USAID missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, the Horn of Africa, and Central America, and responding directly to congressional calls for cuts in foreign aid and development.
The RSC plan calls for $1.39 billion in annual savings from USAID. The USAID operating budget for fiscal 2010 was approximately $1.65 billion. The RSC spending plan summary was not clear if all the cuts would come from operations or from USAID administered programs.
"That would have massive negative implications for our fundamental security," said Shah. "And as people start to engage in a discussion of what that would mean for protecting our border, for preventing terrorist safe havens and keeping our country safe from extremists' ideology … and what that would mean for literally taking children that we feed and keep alive through medicines or food and leaving them to starve. I think those are the types of things people will back away from."
The interests between the development community and U.S. national security objectives don't always align, and this tension is at the core of the debate on how to reinvigorate USAID. Short-term foreign-policy objectives sometimes don't match long-term development needs, and U.S. foreign-policy priorities are not made with development foremost in mind.
But Shah's ambitious drive to reform USAID seems to embrace the idea that development investments can be justified due to their linkage with national security. He is preparing to unveil next month USAID's first ever policy on combating violent extremism and executing counterinsurgency. He also plans to focus USAID's efforts on hot spots like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa, while transitioning away from other countries that are faring well and downgrading the agency's presence in places like Paris, Rome, and Tokyo.
Shah pointed out that Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and ISAF Commander Gen. David Petraeus have all come out in strong support of increasing USAID's capacity to do foreign aid.
"In the military they call us a high-value, low-density partner because we are of high value to the national security mission but there aren't enough of us and we don't have enough capability," he said. "This is actually a much, much, much more efficient investment than sending in our troops, not even counting the tremendous risk to American lives when we have to do that."
For those less concerned with matters of national security, Shah also framed his argument for development aid in terms of increased domestic economic and job opportunities: If we want to export more, we need to help develop new markets that are U.S.-friendly.
"If we are going to be competitive as a country and create jobs at home, we cannot ignore the billions of people who are currently very low income but will in fact form a major new middle-class market in the next two decades," he said.
One of the main criticisms of USAID both on Capitol Hill and elsewhere is that the agency has been reduced over the years to not much more than a contracting outfit, disbursing billions of dollars around the world to organizations that have mixed performance records. In Shah's view, if Congress wants USAID to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse, it has to increase the agency's operating budget and allow the agency to monitor contracts in-house.
"It was the Bush administration that helped launch the effort to reinvest in USAID's capabilities and hiring and people, and the reason they did that is they recognized you save a lot more money by being better managers of contracts," Shah said. "We have a choice. We have a critical need to make the smart investments in our own operations … which over time will save hundreds of millions of dollars, as opposed to trying to save a little bit now by cutting our capacity to do oversight and monitoring."
Shah wouldn't comment on the latest and greatest USAID contracting scandal, where the agency suspended contractor AED from receiving any new contracts amid allegations of widespread fraud. But he did say that his office would be personally reviewing large sole-source contracts from now on, requiring independent and public evaluations, and that more corrective actions are in the works.
"I suspect you'll see more instances of effective, proactive oversight that in fact saves American taxpayers significant resources," he said.
A whole host of U.S. officials are on the ground in Sudan, working tirelessly to encourage that two votes scheduled for early January are conducted on time and fairly. But the top U.S. official in Sudan said on Monday that at least one of the two votes will not happen as scheduled, and that the other could now be delayed as well.
In the main referendum scheduled for Jan. 9, the citizens of oil-rich Southern Sudan are due to decide whether to remain united to the Northern Khartoum-based government or separate to form their own country. In the second poll, the citizens of the resource-wealthy province of Abyei are supposed to decide whether they want to be part of the North or the South -- if the South does vote to secede.
U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration said on Monday on a conference call from Khartoum that due to problems setting up the vote in Abyei, that vote will not happen on Jan. 9 as had been hoped.
"We've passed the opportunity for there to be a poll," Gration said, citing disagreements over voter eligibility that led to delays in setting up the logistics of holding a referendum in Abyei. He said the issue was in the hands of the two parties, but that the United States was "encouraging them to do what it takes to get a solution before the end of the 9th of January."
The revised goal appears to be somewhat less ambitious, but no less critical: if the outstanding issues in dispute in Abyei are unresolved before the South votes on Jan. 9 -- and if the expected outcome of secession hold -- both sides could claim ownership of the province and violence could erupt.
"We are working with both sides to calm the rhetoric and put a plan in place that will give both sides reassurances," Gration said. "This is probably not a situation where either side will be happy. We're looking for a solution that leaves both sides angry but neither side mad."
A senior U.S. official, speaking on background, said that the Abyei situation was extremely tense and represented the greatest risk of violence in the near term. If Abyei breaks out in violence, it could threaten the overall Southern Sudan referendum, the official said.
"In terms of violence that would upset the (Jan. 9) referendum, Abyei could be a flashpoint that would be disturbing enough that there would be cause for a delay," the officials said. "It's important that the (Sudanese) presidency come out with some roadmap, some solution, that the people in that area know what their future is going to be."
Of course, even without a breakout of violence in Abyei, the referendum in Southern Sudan might be delayed anyway. Gration said that although the technical preparations in Southern Sudan were going well, legal challenges to the referendum could result in a delay.
Southern Sudanese leaders have been flooded in recent days by complaints and legal challenges intended to derail the referendum, a campaign they claim is an organized effort supported by the government in the North. One of the complaints, for example, is that time periods for various stages of voting were not strictly adhered to.
Gration admitted that the voter registration period and the time between registration and voting had been compressed.
"Therefore the Southern Sudan Referendum Act was not totally complied with in order to reach the date of Jan. 9... We think it's a good trade off," Gration said. "It really didn't change the outcome and it hasn't changed the transparency."
Another senior U.S. official said that there are no "technical" barriers to holding the referendum on Jan. 9, but acknowledged the political problems. He estimated the odds of holding the vote on time at "greater than 50 percent."
But the official admitted that even a short delay in the overall referendum could cause huge problems in Sudan.
"That would be a serious political crisis if there were any serious steps to delay the referendum," the official said.
John Prendergast, the CEO of the Enough Project, said that the key to peace is to fold the sensitive Abyei negotiations back into the larger deal that is being pursued between the North and South on a host of issues, including borders, citizenship, and wealth sharing.
"Tradeoffs and compromises are critical at this juncture," he said. "For the overall deal to work, Abyei is going to have to be transferred to the South, using the borders outlined by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. But the Arab Misseriya population is going to have to have a minority role in governing arrangements in Abyei, along with guaranteed grazing rights along traditional migratory routes. Both sides are going to have to give in order to avert war, a war in which everyone would lose badly."
Gration also announced that Ambassador Dane Smith will join the U.S. delegation in Sudan to be the point man for the Darfur issue, which some analysts are concerned is worsening as attention focuses on other parts of the country. Gration will travel this week to Doha for a multilateral meeting on Darfur.
Twenty-nine leading human rights organizations wrote to President Obama on Friday to express their disappointment with his decision last week to waive sanctions against four countries the State Department has identified as using child soldiers.
The human rights and child advocacy community was not consulted before the White House announced its decision on Oct. 25 to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was supposed to go into effect last month, for violators Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen. The NGO leaders, along with officials on Capitol Hill, also expressed their unhappiness about the announcement, and their exclusion from the decision making process, in an Oct. 29 conference call with senior administration officials. Today, they backed up their complaints in writing and called on the administration to mitigate the consequences.
"We believe that your waiver undermines the intent of the law and sends an unfortunate message that the administration is not seriously committed to ending the use of child soldiers," the groups wrote to Obama. "By giving a blanket waiver, the administration has also given up the significant leverage that the law provides to influence the child recruitment practices of its military allies."
A secret administration justification memo spelled out the reasons that the White House ultimately decided to forgo the sanctions for each country, explaining why cooperation with these troubled militaries was in the U.S. national interest. But critics countered that these interests could have been maintained without gutting the law.
"We recognize that the United States has a complex set of national interests in each of these countries, including for example, counter-terrorism concerns in Yemen," they wrote. "However, the administration could have accommodated these concerns while also showing that it was taking the Child Soldiers Prevention Act seriously and using its leverage strategically to effectively end the use of child soldiers."
In the administration's conference call reported first on The Cable , the National Security Council senior director Samantha Power argued that staying engaged with these militaries while "naming and shaming" them was actually the most effective way to make progress on the child soldiers issue.
In their letter, the human rights groups rejected that argument. "This approach has been ineffective thus far," they noted. "Continuing existing programs -- as the U.S. has done for years -- without other changes in the approach is unlikely to yield change."
The groups had some specific recommendations for how the administration could mitigate the damage caused by waiving the sanctions. They want the administration to establish benchmarks to gauge whether these troubled militaries are actually making progress on demobilizing child soldiers, publicly commit to not transfer lethal materials to these armies, and start engaging the NGO community and congressional offices about these issues in an organized and transparent manner.
Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch, said the groups are also preparing some specific recommendations for the administration for each of the four countries.
So is the White House dealing well with the NGO groups involved, following last week's botched roll out? "They're certainly paying attention to this issue now," said Becker. "They say this is a priority and we would like to take them at their word."
The letter was signed by the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, the African Faith & Justice Network, the American Federation of Teachers, Amnesty International USA, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Caring for Kaela, Child Protection International, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, the 3D Security Initiative, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Foreign Policy in Focus , the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Human Rights First, Human Rights Program, the University of Minnesota, Human Rights Watch, the International Labor Rights Forum, International Justice Mission, Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice, National Consumers League, the Open Society Policy Center, Oxfam America, Pax Christi USA, Physicians for Human Rights, Presbyterian Church USA, the Ramsay Merriam Fund, Refugees International, Resolve, the United Methodist Church, and the General Board of Church & Society.
The White House spent an hour Friday afternoon trying to convince angry Hill staffers and human rights activists that "naming and shaming" governments that recruit child soldiers, rather than imposing Congressionally-mandated sanctions on them, will better address the problem. But advocacy leaders are upset with the administration and rejected top White House officials' contention that removing sanctions against four troubled states will be a positive move.
The White House began a conference call on the issue Friday afternoon by apologizing to the NGO and Hill community for the decision's botched rollout, which was announced only through a short official presidential memorandum on Monday and then reported on by The Cable on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The call was off the record and not for press purposes, but a recording was made available to The Cable.
"This is a call that should have happened before you read about the administration's child soldiers' posture in the newspaper," said Samantha Power, the National Security Council's senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights. "Given the way you all heard about the implementation of the statute, I can understand why some of the reactions that you had were prevalent."
Power defended the president's decision to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was set to go into effect this month, for Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, and Yemen. She argued that identifying these countries as violators while giving them one more year to stop recruiting underage troops would help make progress.
"Our judgment was brand them, name them, shame them, and then try to leverage assistance in a fashion to make this work," said Power, adding that this was the first year the Obama administration had to make a decision on this issue, so they want to give the violator countries one more year to show progress.
"In year one to just say we're out of here, best of luck, we wish you well... Our judgment is we'll work from inside the tent."
But Hill staffers and advocacy leaders on the call weren't buying what Power was selling. They were upset that they learned about the decision via The Cable, and challenged Power on each point that she made.
For example, Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch, pointed out that the law was passed two years ago.
"The law was enacted in 2008, so countries have had two years to know that this was coming down the pike," she said. "So the consequences of the law really shouldn't be taking anyone by surprise, so to say countries need a year to get their act together is really problematic."
She also disputed Power's contention on the call that "there's evidence that our diplomatic engagement and this military assistance has resulted in some changes."
"The U.S. has been providing training for years already with no real change on the ground," said Becker. "We haven't seen significant changes in practice so far from the engagement approach, so that seems to indicate to me we need to change the approach, maybe withholding programs until we see changes on the ground."
"I think the logic of engagement is something reasonable people can disagree on," Power responded. "There's probably empirical evidence on both sides."
Advocates on the call did acknowledge Chad's efforts on child soldier demobilization, but lamented that little or no progress has been seen in the DRC or with South Sudan's Southern People's Liberation Army (SPLA). But they wanted to know: If the administration believes that the threat of the sanctions has caused progress, then how does removing that threat keep the pressure on?
"Why remove that leverage now when we've seen it's been so valuable?" asked Scott Stedjan, senior policy advisor at Oxfam America
Jesse Eaves, policy advisor for children in crisis at World Vision, was one of several on the call to wonder why the administration decided to waive all sanctions, rather than using a part of the law that allows the continuation of military assistance to violator countries, along as that assistance goes toward military professionalization.
"Naming and shaming has not worked," he said. "You can give support under the law. Much of the aid that's even discussed in the justification memo that many of us have seen can still be given to these countries if they show a reasonable attempt to demobilize child soldiers."
Overall, Power wanted to point out that the administration is still intent on fighting the use of child soldiers and that waiving the sanctions doesn't mean that all pressures will stop. She promised that if these countries don't shape up, the administration will take a tougher line when reevaluating the sanctions next year.
Power repeatedly attempted to argue that the attention over the president's decision to waive sanctions was exactly the kind of public pressure needed to spur violator governments to change. However, her argument was complicated by the fact that the administration failed to tell anyone about the decision and announced it with no rollout or explanation whatsoever.
"I do think there's something different between what happened in 2008 [when the law passed] versus actually being named this week," she said. "And we're already seeing out in the field via our embassies a huge amount of discomfort and angst on the part of those countries about being branded in this way."
Power said at the end of the call that the administration plans to capitalize on the fallout from its decision. She said that the administration planned on "[u]sing the attention from this moment and the leverage of having abstained from having put the sanctions in effect right now and saying... ‘You're not going to get so lucky next time if we don't see some progress.'"
Overall, the call showed that the White House realized it botched the rollout of the decision but is standing by the decision itself. Next, they will have to defend it on Capitol Hill, where staffers are set to receive a special briefing on the issue next week.
"I think it's unfortunate that the NGO community and those in Congress who wrote the law were not involved in its implementation," said Kody Kness, an aide to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), one of the lead sponsors of the law. "I think that's a missed opportunity."
AFP / Getty Images
Most officials on Capitol Hill and human rights advocates received no warning or explanation prior to the Obama administration's quiet announcement Monday that it would waive sanctions against four countries that forcibly recruit child soldiers. However, an internal State Department document obtained by The Cable sheds light on the reasons behind the Obama administration's decision to pull back on a bill that Barack Obama himself co-sponsored as a senator.
The internal document shows that the administration prepared detailed justifications for its decision to waive sanctions against countries that forcibly recruit child soldiers, arguing that working closely with troubled militaries is the best way to reform them and that U.S. security depends on such relationships. But the administration didn't share those justifications with anyone outside the administration until after the decision had been made.
On Wednesday, after The Cable reported that Obama had decided not to cut off military assistance -- as required under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act -- against Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Yemen, the White House offered only a terse explanation for the decision. Today, we bring you the internal State Department document dated Monday, Oct. 25 (PDF) that lays out the arguments State made in favor of not implementing these sanctions. The document is signed by Obama, but we're told it was prepared by State.
The State recommendation to Obama came over the objections of top officials in its Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) bureau, sources told The Cable, but the Political Military affairs bureau (PM) argued in favor of the waivers. We're also told that the Near Eastern Affairs bureau (NEA) and the Africa bureau (AF) were heavily involved in the discussions although it's unclear what their exact positions were inside the debate.
Hill staffers and child advocacy leaders who were provided the document after Monday's announcement told The Cable they were unsatisfied with both the decision and the explanation.
"We're going to ask for some greater explanation on some of these. To do the waiver on all of the countries certainly caught our attention," said one Democratic Senate aide involved in the issue. "When using American tax money to help governments that use child soldiers, there should be a pretty high bar."
Key Senate offices to watch are those of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), the original sponsors of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act. There was broad bipartisan support for the bill when it passed by unanimous voice vote in 2008. Other key co-sponsors at the time included then Sen. Joseph Biden and then-Sen. Obama.
"This was landmark legislation that Obama supported as a senator and now he's undercutting it. It's really a shame," said Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch.
"The basic problem here is that the administration is taking an all-or-nothing approach. There's no doubt that the administration has legitimate interests in these countries. But they should have sought a middle ground that allows them to take the law seriously while still taking our cooperation with these countries seriously," she said.
The justification for each waiver largely tracks what a White House official told us yesterday, but adds new detail and context to the administration's position on the law and on the violator countries, all of which were identified in the State Department's own 2010 Trafficking in Persons report as systematically using underage troops.
For all the countries, the document states that progress on moving these armies away from using child soldiers is ongoing and that the United States vets anyone they work with directly to make sure they are of the proper age.
On Chad, for example, the document states that ongoing military training programs that would be cut if the law was enforced "are critical to training and influencing critical and future Chadian military leaders." Similarly, the document argues that cutting off military cooperation with the DRC would "jeopardize the United States' opportunity to positively affect the negative behavior patterns currently exhibited by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC)."
In Sudan, ongoing training of the Southern People's Liberation Army (SPLA) would be scuttled if the law were enforced, hurting that army's progress just before the South votes on a referendum to split from the North, the document states.
Cooperation with Yemen needs to continue because that government is a key partner in the fight against al Qaeda, the document argues. "[C]utting off assistance would seriously jeopardize the Yemeni government's ability to conduct special operations and counterterrorism missions, and create a dangerous level of in the country and the region," it says.
The Obama administration quietly waived a key section of the law meant to combat the use of child soldiers for four toubled states on Monday, over the objections the State Department's democracy and human rights officials. Today, the White House tells The Cable that they intend to give these countries -- all of whose armed forces use underage troops -- one more year to improve before bringing any penalties to bear.
The NGO community was shocked by the announcement, reported Tuesday by The Cable, that President Obama authorized exemptions from all penalties set to go into effect this year under the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2008. The countries that received waivers were Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen.
The failure of the administration to consult or even warn those groups that had worked hard to pass the law caused unease and concern around the advocacy community Tuesday. Child protection advocates worried that the administration was abandoning the tactic of threatening to cut off military assistance as a means to pressure abusive regimes to stop forcibly recruiting troops under the age of 18.
"This took us totally by surprise and was a complete shock to people who are working in the field," said Jesse Eaves, policy advisor for children in crisis at World Vision, a children-focused humanitarian organization.
On Tuesday evening, a White House official explained to The Cable the reasons for the decision and the details of what it means for U.S. activity in the affected countries. Essentially, the administration decided that it could not ensure that the offending countries would be able to abide by the law in time -- the breach of which would have required Washington to pull funding. In the end, the administration's calculus weighed in favor of continuing to fund several ongoing assistance programs like military training and counterterrorism advising. They decided to give each country at least one more year to implement reforms before sanctions are brought to bear, according to the official.
"This is the first year that sanctions were to take effect and part of our thinking here has been to put countries on notice of these legal provisions that are taking effect for the first time and that progress is going to have to be made on these things if these countries are going to continue to receive assistance," the White House official said.
The official also noted that the Obama administration was keen to preserve their relationships with the governments in question and argued that engaging troubled militaries was the most effective way to encourage the reform the law was designed to bring about.
"We still think it's important to maintain a solid relationship with the governments there to ensure they provide protection to those folks," the official said. "One rationale for continuing the assistance is to help them address the very problem that is the source of the sanctions."
Inside the administration, however, The Cable has learned that there was a heated debate over whether to issue the waivers. Apparently, this debate was held inside the State Department, with the bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) and the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons arguing against blanket exemptions. The bureau of Political and Military Affairs (PM) argued for the exemptions. The PM bureau's argument won the day and the State Department submitted recommendations to the White House, which issued the waivers.
The 2008 Child Soldier Prevention Act was originally sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and wrapped into a larger bill sponsored by then Sen. Joe Biden. Durbin's office was not able to comment by deadline and Biden's office deferred to the White House.
Leading human rights activists involved in the issue were skeptical that letting abusive governments evade sanctions would have the effect of producing reform faster.
"This is the first year it's being enacted, so to waive everyone right out of the gate sends exactly the wrong message," said Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch. "By providing a blanket waiver, the U.S. is really giving up all of its leverage to force them to change their approach to using child soldiers."
She also criticized the official's contention that the abusive countries needed more time to become aware of the law, which was signed in December 2008. It became operative in June 2009 but couldn't go into effect until violator countries were identified in the State Department's 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, which came out in June.
"If the State Department was doing its job, governments would have been well aware two years ago that this process was underway," said Becker.
The 2010 Trafficking in Persons report identified six countries that are systematically employing the use of child soldiers. In addition to the four that Obama waived sanctions on, Burma and Somalia are also implicated. But neither of those countries receive U.S. military assistance that could be cut off as a sanction, according to the law. Therefore, Obama's waivers have the effect of preventing the law from imposing any sanctions at all this year.
The White House official said when the next State Department report comes out in June 2011, there will be another assessment of whether to impose penalties on violator countries. He also hastened to underline that the waivers weren't issued to pave the way for new military sales to any of the countries found to be using child soldiers.
In Chad, the U.S. is engaged in counterterrorism activities but also is working with the government's armed forces to deal with the spillover of refugees from the crisis over the Sudanese border in Darfur. In the DRC, the U.S. is providing training of various types, military advisors, and also military vehicles and spare parts to the Congolese army. Over 33,000 child soldiers have been involved in the decade old civil war there and the country leads the world in the use of underage troops, according to UNICEF.
With regard to Sudan, other sanctions prevent the United States from helping the Khartoum government in the North, but the U.S. is giving military training assistance to the Southern People's Liberation Army, which could end up a national army if the South votes to separate in the January referendum. The SPLA has about 1,200 child soldiers, the official said, adding that cutting off such training would only undermine ongoing reform efforts.
Yemen is a recipient of significant direct U.S. military assistance, having received $155 million in fiscal 2010 with a possible $1.2 billion coming over the next five years. Yemen is also a much needed ally for counterterrorism operations. The government is engaged in a bloody fight with al Qaeda (among other separatist and terrorist groups), and estimates put the ratio of child soldiers among all the groups there at more than half. Nevertheless, "the president believes there are profound equities with Yemen in terms of counterterrorism that we need to continue to work on," the official told The Cable.
Several outside experts pointed out the existing law already contains an exemption that would permit the U.S. government to sanction abuser countries while still providing assistance that "will directly support professionalization of the military."
"This exception gives the U.S. government very wide berth to continue to provide assistance to bring these militaries more in line with the American image of what their military should look like," said Rachel Stohl, Associate Fellow at the Washington office of Chatham House, a U.K.-based think tank. "The law allows for professionalization of these militaries, so these waivers are really disappointing and add insult to injury."
AFP / Getty images
On Monday, the Obama administration waived sections of a law meant to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers in Africa, paving the way for new military cooperation with four countries with poor human rights records -- despite their use of underage troops.
"I hereby determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application to Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the [Child Service Prevention Act]," President Obama wrote in a memorandum to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In 2008, President George W. Bush signed the law, which prohibits U.S. military education and training, foreign military financing, and other defense-related assistance to countries that actively recruit troops under the age of 18. Countries are designated as violators if the State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons report identifies them as recruiting child soldiers.
The original bill was actually sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) before being added to a larger bill led by then Senator, now Vice President Joseph Biden. The only countries where the restrictions under this law are still in place are now Burma and Somalia.
The only reason provided in the memorandum was that Obama determined it was in the "national interest" to waive the law for those four countries.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told The Cable that the Obama administration has decided that working with militaries that recruit child soldiers actually helps solve the problem more than ignoring those militaries would.
"In each of these countries, we are working with the governments to stop the recruitment of child soldiers or demobilize those who may already be in the ranks," Crowley explained. "These countries have put the right policies in place, but are struggling to effectively implement them. These waivers allow the United States to continue to conduct valuable training programs and by working with these militaries help them meet international norms."
So the Obama administration has determined that deepening military relationships with brutal dictatorships and unsavory regimes is the best way to reform them? That seems like a pretty big shift in policy. It still remains unclear what military assistance the United States actually plans to give to countries like Sudan, Chad, and Yemen, as well as how it will use its engagement to protect child soldiers.
"We will continue to work with these governments to reduce the recruitment or use of child soldiers within the ranks of their armed forces," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in an e-mailed statement. "We will also generally endeavor to prevent foreign security forces that recruit and use child soldiers from benefitting from any U.S. foreign assistance."
If you have any insight on the reasons behind this decision or its implications, let us know at email@example.com.
As the administration attempts a full-court diplomatic press in Sudan in the final stretch before the January referendum on splitting the country, Congress is also ramping up its involvement in the issue, with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) leading the effort.
Kerry is on his way to Sudan now and will be there throughout the weekend, where he will hold high-level meetings with government officials representing both the North and South in Khartoum and Juba. Kerry previously traveled to Khartoum and Darfur in April 2009.
"Sudan is at a pivotal moment. Every reliable source indicates that Southern Sudan will vote for separation, dividing Africa's largest country and taking with it some 80 percent of known Sudanese oil reserves," Kerry said in a statement. "The Sudanese in the North and the South must seize this moment and address the difficult issues that could seriously disrupt the fulfillment of the landmark Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which included provision for the referendum, and lead to unnecessary violence. America must help North and South Sudan find a peaceful path forward."
Last month, Kerry introduced the Sudan Peace and Stability Act of 2010, which calls for the U.S. government to provide increased aid to southern Sudan, develop contingency planning in case violence breaks out, review existing sanctions if the country splits into two, appoint a full-time senior official to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, and develop a multi-year strategy for helping end the Darfur tragedy.
In an op-ed last month, Kerry clearly stated his position that the January referendum can't be delayed, as some officials in the North are now saying is necessary.
"The deadline for the Southern referendum promised in the peace agreement, January 9, 2011, is not negotiable," he wrote. "But exactly how the North and South will simultaneously separate while remaining interconnected must be."
Kerry has not staked out a clear position in the Obama administration's long-running internal debate on how tough the United States should be on President Omar al-Bashir's government, which continues to propagate atrocities in the run up to the poll. The administration has promised to employ both incentives and pressures on Bashir, but officials are divided over how to balance these policy tools.
For anyone interested in the administration's latest thinking on Sudan, there will be a briefing at the State Department's Foreign Press Center Friday morning with Special Envoy Scott Gration, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson (Hey-oh!), and NSC Senior Director Samantha Power.
When President Obama meets with leaders from northern and southern Sudan Friday, his goal will be to persuade them to speed up preparations for a January referendum, in hopes of avoiding a new civil war. However, his approach is still coming under fire from Sudan advocacy groups, who have criticized the administration for its unwillingness to specify what the penalties will be if Khartoum continues its obstructionist actions.
The Khartoum government is widely viewed as continuing to pursue policies, such as delaying preparations for the vote and refusing to define the borders between the two regions, which make the possibility of a free and fair vote in South Sudan more difficult. The dictatorship, led by indicted war criminal President Omar al-Bashir, also continues to foment violence in the Darfur region, where millions of refugees suffer horrid conditions and live in fear of attacks by government-backed militias.
The administration's Sudan team, which has battled internally over how to approach the Bashir government over the past year, has come up with a more detailed package of incentives and pressures to bring to bear on the Sudanese government in advance of Obama's meeting. The Cable reported that this approach, however, was also a source of contention inside the administration, with U.N. representative Susan Rice taking the stance that the pressures were not strong enough. She was overruled by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who sided with Special Envoy Scott Gration.
Still, the administration has been ramping up its diplomatic efforts in Sudan. Vice President Joseph Biden traveled to the region in June. In August, the State Department dispatched veteran diplomat Princeton Lyman to Sudan to manage the U.S. support effort. Then, last week, the State Department issued a policy fact sheet that lays out incentives for Khartoum -- but gave no hint of the sticks that the U.S. government was also contemplating as leverage.
On a private conference call with Sudan advocacy leaders Monday, a recording of which was provided to The Cable, Gration detailed the various incentives he had offered the Bashir government during his last trip to Sudan. However, he again refused to explain what consequences might be brought to bear if Khartoum doesn't comply.
For example, he said, "We recognize that the North would lose some of its sources of financial income [if the South separates] and we would help them take steps to allow additional trade and investment in Sudan, things like debt relief and investment in the non-oil sectors."
Moreover, if Khartoum agrees on a "framework of principles on principles... on some of the post referendum arrangements," the United States would be willing to exchange ambassadors, Gration said. If Bashir implements the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and remedies the situation in Darfur, the United States would consider lifting sanctions, he also said.
"If they complied with all the expectations and the things we are demanding, we would look at rescinding the state sponsor of terrorism designation and the Executive Orders that in many ways put restrictions on their economy, and then also the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act," Gration said, referring to a path to full normalized relations with the United States..
One of the questioners on the call pressed the officials to explain what the pressures or penalties would be if violence increases in Darfur or the government does not move forward with a free and fair ballot, as it has promised.
The NSC's senior director for African Affairs Michelle Gavin stepped in and said that Gration "has also made it very plain that there are a wide range of consequences that will be deployed if the situation does deteriorate... The strategic choice laid out to the Sudanese actors is very clear and it's not a choice that only involved benefits."
Gration reiterated, "We've made it very clear what the consequences are," without identifying any of them specifically.
Sudan advocacy leaders, who have had a tumultuous relationship with the Obama administration and have generally not been fans of Gration's style of diplomacy, said that identifying only one half of the policy, the incentives, undermines the policy as a whole.
"It's a violation of diplomatic tenets to expose only one half of your package," said John Prendergast, CEO of the Enough Project. "When the special envoy stresses so publicly the incremental steps and the incentives, two negative consequences occur. First, the appearance is made that the U.S. doesn't really have consequences or pressures, which influences calculations in Sudan. Second, the Sudanese government is painted, if they comply, as accepting payments for peace. Very few governments in the world want to be seen in that light."
Prendergast said the U.S. diplomatic effort's biggest problem continues to be Gration himself, who the advocacy community views as being too chummy with the Bashir government and too willing to praise or endorse its ideas.
"The administration took some very important positive steps in the last few weeks, but they continue to be undermined by the conduct of public diplomacy by the special envoy [Gration]," said Prendergast. One example concerns the future status of Abyei, a contested, oil-rich region that many are concerned may spark conflict.
"The NCP floated a proposal on Abyei that would be funny if it wasn't so tragic and we've received accounts that the special envoy has been supportive of that proposal," he said.
Samantha Power, the NSC's senior director for multilateral engagement, claimed on the call that the administration's intensified diplomacy was having a positive effect on the ground.
"We have been able to see some incremental steps, which I think are a tribute to this surge of concentrated diplomacy in advance of the U.N. event," she said.
Power named three examples of progress. Southern Sudan's registration commission has finally begun the procurement of voter registration materials, $85 million of election related funds have been released in South Sudan, and the head of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission was finally sworn in, she said.
On this point, Prendergast agreed. "It's very important to acknowledge that President Obama has engaged directly in a very serious way on Sudan. The manifestation of that is the meeting on Friday in New York, the enhanced work the administration is going to do around the general assembly this week on Sudan, and the deployment of Princeton Lyman to help spearhead an expanded U.S. role in the negotiations."
Obama's Friday meeting will be hosted by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and participants include the chairman of the African Union Commission on Sudan Thabo Mbeki, Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, and the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir.
President Obama's special envoy to Sudan, retired Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, could be on his way to a new job in Kenya as the White House prepares a new approach to Sudan ahead of a January referendum that analysts fear could split the country into two separate nations -- or even spark a new civil war.
The news comes in the wake of a contentious principals-level meeting at the White House last week, in which Gration clashed openly with U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice over the direction of Sudan policy.
At the meeting, Rice was said to be "furious" when Gration proposed a plan that makes the January referendum a priority, deemphasizes the ongoing crisis in Darfur, and is devoid of any additional pressures on the government in Khartoum.
According to multiple sources briefed on the meeting, Gration's plan was endorsed by almost all the other participants, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and will now go the president for his approval. Rice was invited to provide a written dissent. Vice President Joseph Biden did not attend.
It wouldn't be the first battle Gration has won over how to deal with the brutal regime of Omar Hassan al-Bashir, an indicted war criminal who has driven his nation to ruin since coming to power in a 1989 military coup. Gration advocates closer and more cooperative interactions with the ruling National Congress Party, which he sees as the best way to influence its behavior, along with a de-emphasis on public criticism of the regime's deadly tactics.
The tension between Gration and Rice goes back to the early days of the administration. In June 2009, ABC News reported that Rice, who has long advocated a tougher line on Khartoum, was "furious" when Gration said that Darfur was experiencing only the "remnants of genocide." The State Department quickly confirmed that its official position is that genocide is ongoing.
Now, Gration's penchant for gaffes and his poor relations with communities of interest may have finally taken its toll, observers say.
"The fact that he's being rotated out of this position suggests that he may have won a number of battles but lost the war. If people were overwhelmingly happy with his performance, it seems odd you would move him out to be ambassador of a neighboring country," said John Norris, executive director of the Enough Project, a leading Sudan anti-genocide advocacy organization.
Gration, who has been the administration's point man on Sudan for more than a year, is currently considering taking the job of U.S. ambassador in Nairobi, according to multiple sources both inside and outside the administration. Discussions are ongoing and no formal offer has been made, but as of one week ago Gration was said to be lobbying hard to keep his Sudan portfolio if he moves to Kenya.
Gration has wanted to be envoy to Kenya for some time, according to multiple administration sources. If he is successful in keeping his role in Sudan policy, he would be hugely influential on three major Africa policy issues: Sudan, Kenya, and Somalia, which is largely managed from the embassy in Nairobi.
The more likely scenario is that if and when Gration is sent to Kenya -- assuming he passes a Senate confirmation process that will likely be contentious -- he would have to relinquish the Sudan portfolio.
"The special envoy job is a full-time job, as is being ambassador to Kenya during this crucial time," Norris said. "I can't imagine they would place one person in charge of both."
One administration source said that the plan had been to nominate Gration during the congressional recess, as to avoid a lengthy confirmation debate, but that plan was no longer operative and Gration would be nominated and confirmed through the usual process. Gration's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Leading figures in the Sudan advocacy community have long been critical of Gration, whom they see as too cozy with the Khartoum government and wholly uninterested in applying additional pressures on Sudan's government in response to rising violence.
When the administration rolled out its new Sudan policy last October, Secretary Clinton promised that both carrots and sticks would be used to influence Bashir's behavior. "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 leveraged by our government and our international partners," she said.
But though Sudan is under a variety of unilateral and multilateral sanctions, the administration never publicly identified what additional pressures it was bringing to bear. That, combined with Gration's statements about the need to engage Khartoum positively, have led most observers to conclude that no additional pressures were ever applied.
"During the last year and a half, we've seen increased violence in Darfur and the deadliest months in five years, we saw an election that was completely compromised without any resulting sanctions, we've seen a deepening of the rifts that could cause a resumption of war between the north and the south. None of these have elicited from the Obama administration anything more than an occasional statement," said John Prendergast, CEO of the Enough Project. "This has given a clear green light to the regime in Khartoum to pursue its warmongering as usual. Gration has overseen this policy."
Administration officials played down the conflict between Rice and Gration, saying that such meetings are supposed to be deliberative. "This is a policy debate. People often disagree. If they didn't, what's the point of having the meeting?" one White House official said.
Regardless, for Sudan watchers, the hope is that the president will finally weigh in and make his views known, to settle the internal debate.
"There's always going to be divisions inside an administration," said Prendergast. "This is the first time you have a clear choice placed directly in the hands of the president. It's time for him to step up."
Meanwhile, the world is bracing for an eruption in Southern Sudan. Khartoum has been caught fomenting violence between southern groups, agreements on borders and revenue sharing are nonexistent, and the conduct of the last election gives nobody confidence the referendum is on track.
Analysts worry that the international community and the U.S. in particular are missing their last opportunity to prevent Bashir's government from undermining the credibility of the referendum to a degree where armed conflict would break out.
"Good diplomacy backed by serious pressure can potentially prevent this from happening, but that's what's so disappointing; we have poor diplomacy with almost no pressures whatsoever," said Prendergast. "It's a worst-case scenario."
AFP / Getty Imgaes
As Sudan speeds toward a January referendum that could lead the splitting of the country or, in the worst case, all-out war, President Obama's special envoy is complaining that his job has been made more difficult by new charges leveled against the Sudanese president.
On Monday, the International Criminal Court issued a second arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, this time on three counts of genocide. In March 2009, the ICC had indicted Bashir for five counts of "crimes against humanity." The Obama administration has always said that war criminals should be brought to justice, but at the same time is pursuing a policy of engagement with Bashir's government while avoiding direct contact with the Sudanese leader himself. On Tuesday, Obama said he was "fully supportive of the ICC."
But the president's point man on Sudan, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, said this week that the new charges will have a damaging effect on his ability to work with Bashir's government. Speaking at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Tuesday, he expressed dissatisfaction with the ICC's latest move.
"The decision by the ICC to accuse Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir of genocide will make my mission more difficult and challenging especially if we realize that resolving the crisis in Darfur and South, issues of oil and combating terrorism at a 100 percent, we need Bashir," Gration was quoted as saying by Radio Sawa, an Arabic language radio station run by the U.S. government.
"Also [regarding] the issues of citizenship and referendum, the North holds a lot of influence, so this is really tough. How will I carry out my duties in this environment?" he reportedly asked.
This isn't the first time Gration has gone off message since he became special envoy, beginning with the time he likened the administration's engagement policy toward Khartoum to giving out cookies and gold stars to children.
Last June, ABC News reported that U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice was "furious" when Gration said that Darfur was experiencing only the "remnants of genocide." The State Department quickly confirmed that its official position is that genocide is ongoing.
White House officials, beginning with President Obama himself, have been trying to make it clear that they support the ICC's action, notwithstanding Gration's complaints.
"My view is that the ICC has put forward an arrest warrant. We think that it is important for the government of Sudan to cooperate with the ICC," Obama said in a Tuesday interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation. "We think that it is also important that people are held accountable for the actions that took place in Darfur that resulted in, at minimum, hundreds of thousands of lives being lost ... We want to move forward in a constructive fashion in Sudan, but we also think that there has to be accountability, and so we are fully supportive of the ICC."
Antony Blinken, Vice President Joe Biden's national security advisor, reiterated the administration's support for the ICC ruling in remarks Thursday at conference at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Many in the Sudan advocacy community have been increasingly unhappy with Gration, based on what they see as his unwillingness to put real pressure on Bashir's government and his penchant for making statements that seem to contradict those of his superiors.
"Setting aside issues of accountability and justice and debates about justice versus peace, the special envoy's public statement was, simply put, alarmingly off-message," wrote Amanda Hsiao on the website of the Enough Project, an anti-genocide advocacy group. "This divergence of views, between the Obama administration and its appointed special envoy, has made depressingly clear-once again-the degree of divisiveness and lack of coordination among the actors entrusted with implementing U.S. policy on Sudan."
"It's unfortunate on the day that president obama spoke so forcefully about the importance of peace with justice, his special envoy backtracked the president's sentiment in the Sudan context and further undermined US credibility in the pursuit of peace in Sudan," Enough's CEO John Prendergast told The Cable.
The State Department, meanwhile, has tripled its presence in Southern Sudan, bringing in former Ambassador to Gabon Barry Walkley to lead the effort to work with the Southern Sudanese ahead of a potential split.
"The issues that are most troubling right now are issues with carrying out the referendum," Gration said in a Wednesday speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, explaining that the logistics of organizing the event are enormously complicated. If the South does vote to secede, the new state will face huge challenges, such as establishing a currency, controlling its air space, restructuring its debts, and sharing oil and other resources.
Gration did admit one failure of the U.S. policy toward Sudan. "We haven't made a difference in the lives of the Darfurian people," he said.
Vice President Joseph Biden is leading an interagency delegation to Africa this week, but his final stop at the 2010 World Cup is not the point of the journey. Biden is there to get involved in Sudan policy and lend some senior-level supervision to an issue that has split the Obama administration for months.
On Wednesday, Biden will become the senior-most Obama administration official to meet with Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir. The purpose of the meeting will be "to talk about the necessary steps to fully implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and to plan for post-referendum Sudan," a senior administration official told The Cable, adding that the conversation will be "mostly about the future of southern Sudan." That's an indication that the Obama team is getting concerned about the January 2011 elections, when the South is widely expected to vote to separate from the North, a result that could spark violence or even a return to civil war.
There are Sudan meetings woven throughout Biden's seven-day journey through Africa. He already spoke about the future of southern Sudan with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Monday in Sharm el-Sheikh, it's sure to come up in his Tuesday meetings with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, and the vice president's office has said Sudan will be at the top of the agenda during Biden's meeting Thursday with former South African President Thabo Mbeki.
Sudan Special Envoy J. Scott Gration is on the trip with Biden, along with Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs Johnnie Carson and the National Security Council's senior director for Africa Michelle Gavin, among others.
The elevation of the Sudan issue to the top levels of the White House is exactly what leading Sudan activists have been demanding of the administration for months. They are fed up with what they see as deep divisions inside the Obama team about how to approach Sudan.
SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images
Are you a congressional staffer with a Facebook account? If so, prepare to see a new Sudan advocacy ad on Facebook directed at you!
A coalition of Sudan-related organizations is launching a new ad campaign today targeting all congressional staffers and the constituents of key House and Senate foreign policy leaders as part of the groups' ongoing criticism of the way the Obama administration is handling Sudan policy.
The ad is one of a package. The others target people living in the districts of Senate Foreign Relations Committee heads John Kerry, D-MA, and Richard Lugar, R-IN, as well as House Foreign Affairs Committee leaders Howard Berman, D-CA, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL.
These groups, which include the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress, the San Francisco Bay Area Darfur Coalition, the Genocide Intervention Network (GIN), the Darfur Human Rights Organization, and Stop Genocide Now, ran an ad in the Washington Post in January targeting the top deputies of several executive branch agencies.
Apparently unsatisfied with their drive to influence administration leaders, they are now turning their fire to Capitol Hill, asking lawmakers to press the Obama team to get tougher with the Khartoum regime ahead of the national elections in Sudan, which are approaching fast.
"In 10 days there will be national elections and afterwards everybody will ask the question: Are they legitimate? We feel that this question has already been answered," said GIN executive director Sam Bell. "This is not a legitimate election and it shouldn't be recognized as such by the U.S. or any other countries."
Bell's contention is bolstered by the fact that Sudan's main opposition parties this week announced they are boycotting the election. But the advocacy groups' gripes go farther than that. They are increasingly frustrated by what they see as a disjointed message coming from different parts of the administration, and too soft a line coming from Obama's special envoy, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration.
"We see starkly different comments from different parts of the administration on a whole range of issues related to Sudan," said Enough's John Norris. "Gration has been unnecessarily and unduly warm in his comments about the elections and the peace process when neither of those is called for. ... I don't think by putting a rosy glow on things he does anyone any good."
The administration said it would base its policies on what officials saw on the ground, not the words coming out of Khartoum. But all the reports from the ground are negative, Norris said.
Also, the administration said it would base its policies on concrete incentives and pressures, but those specific incentives and pressures have never been publicly released, he added.
Gration is in Sudan now, reportedly trying to salvage the election by meeting with both sides.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Støre, and United Kingdom Foreign Secretary David Miliband issued a statement urging the parties to participate while maintaining that no matter what happens, the 2011 referendum on southern independence should go forward.
"We urge all parties in Sudan to work urgently to ensure that elections can proceed peacefully and credibly in April," they said. "We are deeply concerned by reports of continued administrative and logistical challenges, as well as restrictions on political freedoms."
While the Sudanese government was busy striking a peace deal with the Darfuri people of western Sudan, back in Washington, Obama's point man on the issue was holding a tense meeting with members of the Darfuri diaspora that has since touched off a fierce controversy.
A coalition of Sudan groups has been complaining that inside the Jan. 26 meeting, which was held off the record at the United States Institute of Peace, Special Envoy Scott Gration -- who outraged Darfur campaigners last September when he said the Khartoum regime was more likely to respond to incentives than threats -- made several statements that veered far from the Obama administration's official policy. Others deny that account.
While the exact content of his remarks are in dispute, "clearly the meeting between Gration and the Darfuris was a disaster," according to one Washington-based advocacy leader, who was not in the meeting but communicated with several attendees.
"Every time Gration speaks, he seems to churn up a whole damage-control exercise," the advocacy leader said.
An open letter (pdf) sent to President Obama in mid-February by 35 mostly smaller Sudan-related groups alleges that, inside the Jan. 26 meeting, Gration said the Sudanese government didn't intentionally kill civilians in Darfur and that the U.S. government is planning to shift some $2 billion in funding from that region to South Sudan. The letter calls for Gration's removal as Sudan envoy.
But according to multiple sources, those groups are twisting Gration's words to make them seem more out of step than they actually were. The Cable spoke with several of the participants in the meeting, all of whom asked for anonymity because they had agreed to keep Gration's remarks off the record. The consensus was that the letter to Obama mischaracterized much of what the special envoy actually said.
It may be impossible to determine exactly what Gration did say, since no transcript exists and there were language and communications difficulties to boot. Only four of the 35 groups in the letter actually had a representative in the meeting, the Washington-based advocacy leader pointed out. Gration's office did not respond to requests for comment.
Several attendees acknowledged there was palpable frustration at the end of the meeting, however, due to a perception that Gration chose mostly to explain his own thinking rather than have a genuine exchange of views.
The differing accounts of the meeting highlight a growing divide among Sudan groups over how to deal with Gration. One faction mostly outside Washington wants to force his ouster, whereas another faction, mostly consisting of larger institutions inside the Beltway, assumes that he's not likely to be thrown overboard any time soon and worries that his sacking would only create a vacuum at a critical time in U.S. diplomacy.
These larger groups hope that before 2011, when the autonomous South Sudan region is due to hold a referendum on whether to secede altogether, the White House will assign ownership of this issue to senior officials in the State Department and the National Security Council, wresting some control away from Gration.
Advocacy leaders worry what might happen if the fragile truce in Sudan falls apart, the South votes for independence, and the U.S. is forced to take sides. They see Gration's reaction to the latest agreement as an indication he is too inclined to give Khartoum the benefit of the doubt.
"We have had agreements in the past; most have failed," Gration said last week in Doha, the Qatari capital. "I think this is different."
Last week, however, U.N. officials accused the government of Sudan of increasing its attacks on Darfur civilians, despite the new truce.
Seems like everyone has their own idea about how to solve the crisis in South Sudan and get more international attention for the people suffering there. What's Kansas Senator Sam Brownback's plan? Have them send a basketball team to the United States.
In today's Senate Appropriations Committee hearing with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Brownback lamented that representatives of South Sudan's government can't get attention or publicity in the United States, let alone a meeting with President Obama.
"I even urged them, I've said, ‘Why don't you get a basketball team together and start traveling America with the southern Sudanese?' It's Dinka tribe-dominated -- and they're very tall," Brownback explained.
"They've got 10 guys over 7 feet tall playing basketball in southern Sudan. So I'm saying just show up. You may get beat by 40 points, but everybody is going to say, ‘Where did these guys come from?'"
Clinton responded to Brownback with a non-committal "Mm-hmm," and confirmed that yes, the Dinka tribesman of southern Sudan are in fact "very tall."
PICTURED: retired NBA center Manute Bol, the son of a Dinka chief and a very tall man
A meeting of top U.S. officials on Sudan last week was supposed to yield big recommendations on how to craft the right balance of incentives and pressures toward the Khartoum regime, which stands accused of fomenting genocide in Darfur and stirring instability in its autonomous southern region. Instead, the meeting seems to have left the Obama administration's Sudan policy in limbo, leading to angst among both Sudan insiders and observers, sources tell The Cable.
The meeting, hosted by the National Security Council and carried out at the deputies level, had been greatly anticipated by Sudan watchers as a watershed moment in their long struggle to turn Darfur into a top-tier policy issue. Expectations were so high that Sudan advocacy groups published an unorthodox ad in the Washington Post before the meeting calling out the deputies -- U.N. ambassador Susan Rice's No. 2 Erica Barks-Ruggles, NSC deputy Tom Donilon, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey, and Michèle Flournoy, the under secretary of defense for policy -- by name.
Several members of the Sudan advocacy community said they were told that the quarterly deputies meetings would be tracking progress and making recommendations on specific "carrots and sticks" to use as leverage in Khartoum.
And they pointed to the October remarks of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said during the press conference announcing the administration's new Sudan policy: "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 leveraged by our government and our international partners."
But the deputies, who don't decide policy but make recommendations to their bosses, never got to outlining those incentives and pressures, instead only reviewing the various agencies' "assessments" of the situation in Sudan, one high-level participant confirmed to The Cable.
"This was an opportunity to hear the views of the representative, a number of challenges were outlined, and each of the assessments were in line," the participant said, referring to Sudan envoy J. Scott Gration. "I thought it was a very productive meeting," the participant said, arguing that the assessments were always meant to be the basis of the discussion.
One big problem, though, was that the briefing paper that was to have all the agencies' positions clearly spelled out was not prepared in advance, hurting the deputies' ability to iron out any differences.
According to one person familiar with the meeting, Deputy National Security Advisor Tom Donilon scolded NSC Africa Director Michelle Gavin for a lack of preparation in front of all the other participants. A government source characterized Donilon's comments to Gavin as no different than comments he might make to any staffer at any meeting. Besides, this second source said, it wasn't Gavin's responsibility to prepare the document. The source declined to specify exactly who dropped the ball.
The first source also said that Steinberg, upon learning that the prep materials were absent, moved to leave the meeting in protest but was directed to stay by Donilon, which he did.
Steinberg denied that account. "I didn't move to walk out of the meeting," Steinberg told The Cable. "The meeting ran overtime and I had to leave to attend another meeting on a time-urgent subject that was happening at the same time and which I had previewed to Tom [Donilon]."
A participant source inside the meeting confirmed that Donilon asked Steinberg to stay to the end, but said that Steinberg wasn't trying to make a show of exiting.
Regardless, the inability of participants to demonstrate any real progress on outlining a package incentives or disincentives struck many observers as a bad sign going forward.
"What's concerning here is that this signals that the same kind of dysfunction that occurred leading up to the policy review appears to continue to this day," one advocacy leader said. "It's a cliché to say the clock is ticking, but it is."
National elections are slated for April, and Sudan watchers worry that the Obama administration doesn't have a clear strategy for dealing with the autonomous South, which in January 2011 will hold a referendum on whether to remain part of a unified Sudan.
"If they're not moving the ball forward, that means the process is stalled at that level and the new policy is already stuck in the mud," said John Prendergast, cofounder of the Enough Project and an outspoken critic of the administration's Sudan policy.
Rice vs. Gration?
Obama's approach to Sudan has been hobbled from the beginning by deep divisions between senior officials -- especially Gration, the special envoy, and Rice, the U.N. ambassador -- on how best to handle Khartoum, sources said. Gration is said to be big on carrots, while Rice prefers sticks. Steinberg is also said to lean towards a harder line, which the advocacy community also favors.
In 2006, Rice coauthored an article saying, "History demonstrates that there is one language Khartoum understands: the credible threat or use of force."
ABC News reported that Rice was "furious" in June when Gration said that Darfur was experiencing only the "remnants of genocide." The State Department quickly confirmed that its official position is that genocide is ongoing.
In remarks this week, Rice stated clearly that violence in South Sudan was on the rise and she was concerned new weapons were flowing in from the North. She also said she was not confident April elections would be safe and fair.
Regardless, Prendergast said, Gration is the driver of policy now. He has consolidated control and meets with Obama directly, often without Secretary Clinton in the room.
"This is a White House driven policy and the State Department at multiple levels has been deeply frustrated at their lack of input at various levels of the process," he said.
But if it's a White House driven policy, it's not one getting much public attention from the president: Obama didn't mention Sudan or Darfur once in this week's State of the Union address.
Frustrated by their inability to influence Sudan special envoy Scott Gration, Sudan advocacy groups are moving up the food chain, calling out senior Obama administration officials by name in a series of new ads.
The ads, to appear in the Washington Post and Politico starting Tuesday, take aim at officials who will be participating in a National Security Council deputies meeting this week on Sudan. They accompany a new strategy paper being circulated by Sudan advocacy groups calling on the administration to publicly disclose the measures by which it is evaluating progress in Sudan ahead of the coming elections.
"We're just trying to hold their feet to the fire," John Norris, CEO of the Enough project, told The Cable, "It's not an effort to demonize them, but we recognize they are key decision makers."
The ads name Susan Rice's deputy Erica Barks-Ruggles, NSC deputy Tom Donilon, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levy, and Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy.
"They are a hugely influential group of public officials that most of the public knows very little about," said Norris. Underlying the push is a feeling among groups that the Sudan issue has been put on the backburner since the administration's policy rollout last October.
But with national elections coming in April and a referendum on splitting the country scheduled for next January, the Obama team will have to take Sudan policy more head on, these groups contend. "At some point this is going to need some senior administration attention, but that just doesn't seem to be there yet," Norris said.
Gration has been traveling back and forth to the region constantly but that hasn't mollified groups who want to see more concrete planning for the upcoming polls and a permanent and robust U.S. diplomatic presence on the ground.
Gration's overtures to the brutal Khartoum regime have caused tensions between his office and the advocacy groups watching his issues, tensions made worse when he inartfully compared his idea of incentives with giving "gold stars and cookies" to children.
Advocacy groups keep calling for publicly debated benchmarks for measuring progress in Sudan. The Obama review has those benchmarks, we're told, but they were put in a secret annex that also includes what specific incentives and pressures are being weighed against the Sudanese government.
Norris said he understands the decision to keep the benchmarks secret, but "we worry that by not publicly disclosing the benchmarks, you risk have a tyranny of low expectations that could let the parties off the hook."
The strategy paper outlines why advocacy groups are skeptical that real progress with Khartoum is being made, due to the persistent violence perpetrated by the regime. "New agreements mean little if Sudan's citizens are without basic freedoms and levels of violence are rising in the South," the paper reads. "And there is no reason to put faith in an election that will likely be stolen from the people."
The groups involved include Enough, Human Rights Watch, American Jewish World Service, Genocide Intervention Network, Humanity United, iACT/Stop Genocide Now, Investors Against Genocide, Physicians for Human Rights, and the Save Darfur Coalition.
The NSC deputies meeting is scheduled for Thursday.
A "secret annex" to the Obama administration's new Sudan policy contains all of the details of what incentives and pressures the U.S. is readying to deal with the Sudanese government going forward, but administration officials aren't telling what's in it.
"We will employ calibrated incentives as appropriate and exert real pressure as needed on any party that fails to act to improve the lives of the people of Sudan," U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice told reporters at a Monday briefing set up to introduce the new policy. "There will be no rewards for the status quo, no incentives without concrete and tangible progress. There will be significant consequences for parties that backslide or simply stand still. All parties will be held to account."
But what those incentives and consequences might look like in practical terms is classified, leaving many to question why the administration is being so secretive and whether the new policy really contains strong levers that could convince Khartoum to reverse its bad behavior.
"We have a menu of incentives and disincentives, political and economic, that we will be looking to, to either further progress or to create a clear message that the progress we expect is not occurring," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "But we want to be somewhat careful in putting those out. They are part in fact of a classified annex to our strategy that we're announcing the outline of today."
Some incentives that special envoy Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration (ret.) has discussed in the past, such as removing Sudan from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, are not likely to be in the offing anytime soon. Likewise, strong pressures such as imposing a no-fly zone over large swathes of Sudanese territory are also not being seriously considered.
Two State Department officials, speaking on background basis, said that the classified annex contains specific benchmarks to measure whether or not progress is being made toward advancing the new policy, to be reported on a quarterly basis, but those benchmarks are also secret.
"We don't think it's in the interests of the success of the policy to lay it all out at this time," one of the officials said.
Overall, Sudan watchers and human rights groups came out remarkably in support of the new policy, calling it a victory for those who were warning against what they characterize as a naïve approach put forth by Gration, who said famously that "goldstars" and "cookies" could be used to effect positive change in Khartoum.
"This is a victory of accountability over goldstars and cookies," said John Prendergast, cofounder of the Enough Project, explaining that "the policy today clearly spells out the need for verifiable progress on issue of peace and protection of civilians before anything positive in the form of incentives will be issued."
While expressing cautious optimism, other advocacy leaders were quick to call on President Obama to get personally involved in his new Sudan approach.
"For a lot of people it sends the wrong message that he wasn't there for the rollout," said Sam Bell, executive director of the Genocide Intervention Network, who also wondered why the policy rollout took so long when it was promised months ago.
A former State Department official close to the issue told Foreign Policy that the delay was in part related to a fundamental dispute between Gration and Rice over how tough the policy should be.
Apparently, Gration's office drafted several iterations of the policy document and sent them along to the White House, the National Security Council, and the U.S. delegation at the United Nations. Each time, Rice's people at the U.N. sent back the document with heavy edits, calling for "more sticks" (meaning tougher pressures), based on her basic skepticism that Sudan's regime could be persuaded with carrots.
"Her view is very pragmatic, she has been working with these guys for a generation," the former official said, "[She knows that Sudan's] response diplomatically is yes, yes, yes, but administratively it's no, no, no, and then nothing really happens. So everything would go up to New York and would come back heavily edited ... That's why it's taken so long."
One open question raised by the administration's new Sudan policy is, what will it cost? Does the administration plan to bolster its new strategy with increased resources and will it have to go through Congress to secure those funds?
While there is no specific call for more money in today's announcement, down the road there will be a need for funds, especially when it comes time to get involved in the Sudanese elections, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told The Cable.
"If you're going to restore stability to Darfur, there's a cost to that, there's a cost to CPA implementation. So overtime I think there will be significant resources demands," said Crowley, "I'm sure that will require a significant U.S. investment."
Crowley didn't know if those funds would be included in the regular budget request, but admitted those funds will be needed sooner rather than later.
"We're acutely aware of the urgency of our task and the shortness of our timeline," Gration told reporters Monday morning, "We have only six months until Sudan's national elections take place. The referendum on self-determination [for the autonomous region of South Sudan] is only 15 months away."
Crowley also pledged that the United States would support independence for South Sudan if the people there choose it in 2011, another seemingly important clarification in the new policy.
But if Gration was hoping to engage directly with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, he won't be doing so anytime soon.
"We have no intentions of working directly with President Bashir," one State Department official said, "We firmly believe he should get a good lawyer, present himself to the ICC, and face the charges that have been leveled against him."
Gration has several trips planned over the coming weeks to explain the policy to international stakeholders, a key ingredient of the new policy's potential success, experts said.
"If it's just a unilateral U.S. statement of policy," Prendergast said, "I couldn't think of anything besides toilet paper that's more meaningless."
FP assistant editor Elizabeth Dickinson contributed to this report.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The Obama administration is unveiling its new comprehensive policy toward Sudan this morning, their latest example of its worldwide trend of mixing pressure with engagement in a controversial push to increase American influence with the brutal regime in Khartoum.
The announcement, which began at 9 a.m. in Washington with a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, begins as follows:
Sudan is at an important crossroads that can either lead to steady improvements in the lives of the Sudanese people or degenerate into even more violent conflict and state failure. Now is the time for the United States to act with a sense of urgency and purpose to protect civilians and work toward a comprehensive peace. The consequences are stark. Sudan's implosion could lead to widespread regional instability or new safe-havens for international terrorists, significantly threatening U.S. interests. The United States has a clear obligation to the Sudanese people -- both in our role as witness to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and as the first country that unequivocally identified events in Darfur as genocide to help lead an international effort.
UPDATE: The State Department has released its outline of the new policy.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.