In a dramatic policy shift that violates a pledge Obama made during his campaign last year, his administration has signaled that it will be negotiating with the Sudanese government of Gen. Omar Bashir to end the genocide that has wracked Darfur.
As Politico and the New York Times reported earlier today, President Obama's special envoy to Sudan, retired Maj. General J. Scott Gration, announced a new policy in which the Obama administration will be implementing a mix of "incentives and pressure" to bring an end to Sudan's state-sponsored genocide in Darfur, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of Darfurians murdered and millions more displaced. According to Gen. Gration, this new policy will be unveiled by Secretary of State Clinton on Monday.
General Gration also stated that the administration will set strict time lines for Gen. Bashir to implement a 2005 peace accord Sudan's government signed onto with Darfurian rebel groups in 2005. The Obama administration has also dropped the categorization of the Bashir government's human rights abuses in Darfur from "genocide" to "genocide warning." This revised policy marks a complete turnaround from Obama's campaign promise last year to isolate the genocidal regime and its leader, Gen. Omar Bashir, who is now an international fugitive from justice on an ICC warrant on genocide charges. That warrant was issued by the International Criminal Court in the Hague this past March.
The administration also cited as a reason for the abrupt change in policy Sudan's cooperation in fighting international terrorism, yet Sudan remains on State's list of terrorism sponsors. Israel also maintains that Sudan continues to facilitate illegal Iranian weapons smuggling to Hamas and Hezbollah in violation of UN sanctions against Iran. In late March, Israeli drones attacked a suspected Gaza Strip-bound weapons convoy in the Sudanese desert that included long-range Fajr-3 missiles capable of hitting targets deep within Israel. It was the third such Israeli strike on weapons convoys in Sudan since January.
Legislators, activist groups and rebel leaders are already accusing President Obama of abandoning his campaign promises to make Sudan a priority from day one of his administration, and to take a tough stand against Gen. Bashir. Obama's special envoy, Gen. Gration, was also harshly criticized on September 30th when he stated after a tour of Sudan, "We've got to think about giving out cookies. Kids, countries, they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement."
Last year, candidate Obama criticized the Bush administration for doing too little to stop the killing in Darfur. This past March, President Obama's new UN Ambassador, Susan Rice, called Sudan's expelling of humanitarian groups from Darfur "genocide by other means." Lawmakers and human rights advocates have also been critical of recent attempts by lobbyists with ties to the White House and Congress who have been advocating renewed business and diplomatic ties with Bashir's Sudan despite the ongoing bloodshed.
UPDATE: Contrary to special envoy Gen. Gration's assertion that genocide is no longer ongoing in Sudan (hence the status change from "genocide" to "genocide warning"), the Obama administration qualified Gration's remarks by stating that the administration's position is that genocide is "ongoing" in Sudan.