Rice Warns Sudan Against Putting New Conditions On Peacemaking Efforts For Darfur

Sunday, June 24th 2007, 2:44 pm
By: News On 6

PARIS (AP) _ Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday welcomed what she characterized as new energy and cooperation from France to end the violence in Sudan's Darfur region. She warned Sudan's government not to put fresh conditions on peacemaking efforts.

The chief U.S. diplomat was in Paris for two days of get-to-know-you meetings with the new conservative-led French government and a strategy session on Darfur.

``France has taken a new and I think energizing role on Darfur,'' Rice said before arriving in Paris. ``Really, we need the energy on Darfur because it's not moving quickly enough to deal with the significant humanitarian crisis.''

She said Sudan's government should be on notice that it cannot renege on its recent agreement to allow a larger peacekeeping force into Darfur. The peacekeepers would come from the African Union and the United Nations.

``If in fact the Sudanese are prepared to accept the hybrid force, they need to accept it once and for all and stop the process of trying to scale it back,'' Rice said in a press conference aboard her plane. ``It seems one step forward, two steps back with the Sudanese government.''

Rice's trip is a coming-out party for what the Bush administration hopes will be a happier relationship with French President Nicolas Sarkozy after perceived slights and lectures from his predecessor, Jacques Chirac.

Rice planned meetings with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Defense Minister Herve Morin and other officials in a sign of cooperation on several fronts.

Chirac was the U.S. ally most at odds with President Bush over the Iraq invasion and remained a critic of other U.S. military and anti-terrorism actions.

Washington has grumbled that France sells too much sensitive military technology and armament to potentially unscrupulous buyers. But the U.S. also has praised France for its participation in the international force in Afghanistan.

Part of Monday's session on Darfur was expected to try to flesh out a French proposal for a small, interim peacekeeping force to protect vulnerable refugee camps in Chad, where some of the approximately 2.5 million Darfur refugees have fled.

U.S. officials said last week they welcome the idea, partly for what it says about French commitment to take a leading role in the conflict.

The conference is focusing on speeding deployment of a much larger peacekeeping force for Darfur. The Sudanese government agreed to the force this month, but the details remain vague.

``The Sudanese government has not been easy to deal with,'' the U.S. envoy for Darfur, Andrew Natsios, said in an interview with The Associated Press. He noted the delay since November in getting an agreement on the new troop complement.

``We have that now and what we need now is to build on that and get those troops there as soon as possible, and get the peace negotiations going again because the only thing that's going to end this is a political settlement.''

A force of U.N. and AU peacekeepers would replace a 7,000-member AU contingent now in Darfur. That ill-equipped and underfunded force has failed to stop four years of warfare that has left more than 200,000 people dead. Sudan has agreed to allow up to 19,000 peacekeepers, fewer than the 23,000 envisioned in the original U.N. plan.

The U.S. is the world's largest single donor to the people of Darfur, providing more than $1.7 billion in humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance. Still, it has not been enough to halt the violence in the arid region in eastern Africa that is about the size of Texas.

Bush has branded the crisis as genocide, a term some other governments reject. Human rights activists accuse his administration of being slow to act. Bush announced penalties against the Sudanese government last month, targeting three people with suspected links to the violence as well as about 30 companies in Sudan.

Rep. Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was among those who said the action was too little and came too late. ``They could have sent a stronger message months ago and saved many lives from being disrupted or lost,'' said Lantos, D-Calif.

The conflict broke out when members of Darfur's ethnic African tribes rebelled against what they considered decades of neglect by the Arab-dominated Khartoum government. Sudanese leaders are accused of retaliating by unleashing the janjaweed militia to put down the rebels using a campaign of murder, rape, mutilation and plunder _ a charge they deny.

Strapped by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration has no plan to send U.S. forces to Sudan.

While en route to Paris, Rice took a firm line against efforts to soften conditions for Iran to enter talks over its disputed nuclear program and dismissed as ``chatter'' the discussions among U.S. allies about a new approach.

Iran insists its nuclear work is aimed only at developing nuclear energy and says it will not give up its right to work toward that goal. The U.S. and some other nations are convinced Tehran is secretly working to build nuclear weapons.

``My counterparts when I talk to them are not interested in lowering the bar,'' Rice said. ``There may well be chatter, and I'll call it chatter'' about other options, she said.

Rice dismissed one possible half-measure _ a partial suspension of the activities that most concern the West, and U.N. monitoring of any ongoing work.

``I don't know what partial suspension would look like, and it doesn't seem to me to be a very wise course,'' she said.