WASHINGTON—The new economic sanctions on Sudan that President Bush ordered Tuesday are the most stringent yet aimed at ending the genocide in Darfur, but they'll have an impact only if governments in Europe and elsewhere follow suit, current and former U.S. officials said.
Bush announced three new steps against the Khartoum government, which he accused of obstructing United Nations efforts to end the violence that's killed more than 200,000 people and left 2 million homeless.
The Treasury Department is barring 30 Sudanese firms, including several involved in oil and military sales, from the U.S. financial system; it's blacklisting two aides to President Omar el-Bashir as well as a rebel leader; and it will step up enforcing sanctions based on what U.S. officials said were enhanced financial intelligence-gathering techniques.
Andrew Natsios, Bush's special envoy for Sudan, said the White House hoped that the moves would pressure Bashir into accepting the deployment of a 23,000-person joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force for Darfur.
Privately, U.S. officials involved in Sudan policy acknowledged that the key to success will be to get the European Union on board. China, a major player in Sudan's oil industry, has repeatedly blocked tougher U.N. action against Sudan.
"The key to these sanctions is the Europeans doing the same thing," said a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to be more frank.
"The main weakness is, again, they're simply unilateral U.S. sanctions," said David Mozersky, an analyst in Washington with the International Crisis Group, which studies conflict resolution. "They don't add much to what has already been in place the last 10 years, frankly."
Javier Solana, the 27-nation European Union's foreign policy chief, told the Reuters news agency that the EU, a major trading partner for Sudan, is "open to consider" additional sanctions.
Sudan's government, which has been signaling a more conciliatory stance on its Darfur region in recent weeks, expressed surprise at Bush's announcement.
"Now the process of peace is going forward, and Sudan is studying the proposal (for the expanded peacekeeping force) with the U.N. Security Council," said Rabie Abdul Atti, a senior official in the Sudanese Information Ministry. "I'm surprised at why (U.S. officials) are escalating the issue."
In announcing the sanctions at the White House early Tuesday, Bush accused Bashir of "a long pattern of promising cooperation while finding new methods for obstruction."
Bush was ready to order the sanctions six weeks ago, but held off after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pleaded for more time for diplomacy, U.S. officials said.
A second State Department official, who also asked not to be identified because the official isn't authorized to speak publicly about the issue, said there was little, if any, dissent within the administration about acting now.
Darfur activists dismissed the unilateral actions as having little potential impact, saying Bush must work harder to build international support.
"Unless the U.S. takes the decision to press hard in the U.N. Security Council for a meaningful resolution that sanctions the top ringleaders (in Bashir's government) and multilateralizes the sanctions . . . there will be no bite to this endless barking," three members of the Enough Project, which campaigns against genocide, wrote in an analysis.
The Darfur crisis began in 2003. Responding to rebel attacks, the Sudanese government armed Arab militiamen known as the Janjaweed, who've killed, raped and destroyed villages. Anti-government rebels also have engaged in abuses.
While Bush said Washington would seek a new Security Council resolution to give the sanctions global reach, agreement seems unlikely soon, given China's opposition.
"Instead of just waiting and hoping that something will happen in the U.N., it's a way to work around that," said a former Bush administration official who's familiar with sanctions efforts and who asked not to be named because his new job prohibits speaking to reporters about his earlier position.
While the U.S. sanctions can block only transactions with American companies, banks or citizens, they discourage others abroad from dealing with the targeted entity. Treasury officials have lobbied the global financial sector to warn of "reputational risk" in doing business with U.S.-targeted companies or individuals.
"That's something that Treasury has found to be a pretty effective approach," said Michael Jacobson, a former senior adviser in Treasury's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
(McClatchy Newspapers correspondents Shashank Bengali in Nairobi, Kenya, and Kevin G. Hall in Washington contributed to this report.)