WASHINGTON—The Congressional Black Caucus urged the Bush administration Thursday to push China and moderate Arab nations to pressure Sudan into admitting a U.N. peacekeeping force to help end the violence and humanitarian crisis in its Darfur region.
The caucus made the suggestion to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill. It came a day after Rice warned in a speech that Sudan faces "a choice between cooperation and confrontation" if it doesn't allow U.N. forces in.
Bush has called ending the three-year-old conflict, which the United States considers genocide, a priority for his administration.
Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., a caucus member, said the group told Rice that the administration could apply more pressure to nations with major business and cultural connections with Sudan, pointing to China, Egypt and Jordan.
Last year, Beijing purchased half of Sudan's oil exports, which covered only 5 percent of China's ravenous oil appetite, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Chinese firms also are pouring billions of dollars into office and infrastructure projects in Sudan.
"Our feeling was there should be, whether it's quiet diplomacy, that the U.S. should tell China to tell (Sudanese President Omar Hassan) al-Bashir to stop what he is doing and stop putting out this so-called opposition to the United Nations coming," Payne said.
China is a veto-holding member of the U.N. Security Council, which passed a resolution calling for a U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur to replace a 7,000-person African Union force there.
Bashir has rejected the resolution, and China historically has shied away from pressuring other nations through the Security Council.
The violence began when Darfur's African tribal villagers armed themselves against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum in a fight for greater political rights. Human-rights groups estimate that as many as 450,000 people have been killed and another 2 million displaced by the violence.
White House officials thought they had achieved a breakthrough last May when the U.S. brokered a peace accord between Sudan's government, which has supported Arab militias known as the janjaweed, and the rebels. But the agreement has failed to take hold.
The White House has been imploring the U.N. to get peacekeepers into Darfur. Last week Bush named Andrew S. Natsios, a former head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, as a special presidential envoy to Sudan.
Rice painted a bleak picture of the situation in a speech Wednesday to the Africa Society.
"At this moment ... the government of Sudan has renewed its military offensive against the rebels, which is undermining the Darfur Peace Agreement, as well as our collective humanitarian efforts," she said. "Because of the current lack of security, humanitarian aid workers are unable to reach hundreds of thousands of people in the camps. Without food, and water, and other assistance in the coming months, all will suffer, and many could die."
Susan E. Rice, former assistant secretary of state for African affairs under President Clinton, said the world was rapidly approaching a "Kosovo moment" in Darfur.
"If we're serious about saving lives in Africa, as we are in Europe, we'd give the Sudanese government a short, time-limited ultimatum: Accept a U.N. force or face military action, perhaps airstrikes like in Kosovo."
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow hinted last week that there might be movement on Darfur. "There are behind-the-scenes, ongoing diplomatic efforts," he said.
Payne said he was confident that the White House would prevail. "The U.N. will be in Sudan by the end of the year. Period," he said.
Meanwhile, the 43-member Congressional Black Caucus is pursing its own diplomacy. Caucus members met Tuesday with China's U.S. ambassador, and with Arab League representatives Thursday.
"We believe that the Arab League can have an influence on the government of Sudan—as a matter of fact, all the influence in the world," Payne said. "We're saying to moderate Arab countries—Egypt, Jordan—that they can't sit by and allow the government of Sudan, where they have excellent relations with, to continue the killing."
The caucus has done more than talk about Darfur. Several members, including its chairman, Rep. Melvin L. Watt, D-N.C., have been arrested protesting outside the Sudanese embassy in Washington.
Darfur is the latest cause in the caucus' long history of weighing in on international matters that interest African-Americans. The caucus played vital roles in calling for U.S. intervention in crises in Liberia, Somalia and Haiti and for sanctions against South Africa's apartheid government.
"International affairs and the foreign policy of our country has always been a critical part of the Congressional Black Caucus' agenda," said Paul A. Brathwaite, the caucus' executive director.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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