Top Bush administration officials said Tuesday President Bush decided to seek new sanctions against Sudan in the face of continued stalling by Khartoum on an upgraded peacekeeping force for Darfur.
Officials here say the administration was ready to move on the sanctions six weeks ago, but deferred to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who wanted more time for diplomacy.
In a talk with reporters, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said the Sudanese government responded to the opportunity presented by the UN chief by stoking more Darfur violence:
"The Sudanese government has shown what it does with more time. According to a United Nations report on May 3rd, for example, the government of Sudan used Antonov bombers to attack the village of al-Hash for four hours. This credible report and many others demonstrates that giving Khartoum more time is not the answer."
The new US economic sanctions target two senior Sudanese government officials, a Darfur rebel leader, 30 companies owned or controlled by the Khartoum government, and one company that violated the UN arms embargo in Darfur by shipping weapons to the region. Of the 30 companies, five are key players in the country's growing oil and gas industry.
The director of the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, Adam Szubin, said it is unclear how many, if any, assets of those companies are held by US banks and are now frozen. But he said, given the United States' pivotal role in the oil and gas industry world-wide, effectively barring those firms from the US financial system will have a severe impact on their operations.
"The impact is not just in terms of what may be in the United States today or what may be sitting in a bank account, but also on transactions that could be coming in tomorrow or the weeks to come. The US financial system is obviously a key node in the international financial system, both in terms of trade and financials transfers. And that fact, that these companies are basically excommunicated from the U.S. financial system, is very serious."
Though it nominally accepted a new peacekeeping presence for Darfur at an international conference in Addis Ababa last November, officials here say Sudan has used delaying tactics at every turn to block the envisaged "hybrid" force of United Nations and African Union troops.
The hybrid force of about 23-thousand troops is to replace the seven-thousand member African Union observer mission in Darfur, which has been in place since late 2004 but has been financially strapped and unable to deter violence in the vast region.
US special envoy for Sudan Andrew Natsios says that by resisting the two phases of logistical preparations for the new force, Sudan has effectively been blocking UN troop recruitment efforts. Natsios says governments are understandably reluctant to commit forces against the will of the host country.
"No country is going to agree to anything under phase three until there is some agreement by the Sudanese government that they're going to allow them in. Once that happens, once the Sudanese government has agreed to the UN-AU operational plan under phase three, the hybrid as it's called, then an appeal will go out from the Secretary-General to nations, potential troop contributing countries."
Natsios said President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have been canvassing world leaders on contributing forces and that Pakistan, Nigeria, Egypt, Norway and Sweden have expressed a willingness to be part of the "phase-two" deployment of about three thousand combat engineers, airlift, and other logistical forces.
He said several countries have informally offered to be part of the "phase-three" main deployment including Rwanda which is offering two combat battalions. But he said there will be no formal offers until the Khartoum government gives its assent to the entire plan.
Natsios said a US role in the Darfur force, even if US troops were not already committed in Iraq and Afghanistan, would be inadvisable since Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir has used the prospect of western troops in Darfur as a rallying cry against the UN plan.