- The Washington Times - Friday, April 28, 2006

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that NATO leaders have agreed to take on a more “robust” role in Sudan’s Darfur region and urged other international bodies to prepare the way.

NATO diplomats said that earlier disagreements among the allies over involvement in Darfur had been resolved, but impediments remained, such as the Sudanese government’s objection to a U.N. peacekeeping mission.

“Everybody recognizes that the [African Union] mission, while it has been successful thus far, is not robust enough to deal with the continued violence in Darfur and, particularly, problems that are emerging in western Darfur given the situation and problems on the border with Chad,” Miss Rice said.

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, “An unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States is posed by the persistence of violence in Sudan’s Darfur region, particularly against civilians.”

Miss Rice, speaking to reporters after a meeting of the 26 NATO foreign ministers in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, said that “NATO is ready to work” with the United Nations and the African Union (AU) “to try to bring about that more robust mission.”

“There are certain kinds of support that are needed by [the AU] mission and that will be needed by the U.N. mission, and I would hope that everyone would put aside whatever constraints there are, so that we can respond to what is a really quite difficult humanitarian and security situation in Darfur,” she said.

NATO currently provides limited assistance for the AU with transportation of troops, but U.S. officials said the alliance could help with logistics, communications, intelligence and other areas, while stopping short of intervening on the ground.

A senior U.S. official said that NATO would be “enabling collaborative efforts” of other international players and cannot do much before they make the first steps.

“We have to be able to get into Sudan,” the official said, alluding to Sudan’s refusal to let U.N. peacekeepers in.

Hedi Annabi, U.N. assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, said yesterday that, even though Sudan is not in favor of a U.N. takeover from the AU, it is willing to discuss how the world organization could help if a peace deal is reached to end the conflict.

The 7,000 AU troops in Darfur are poorly equipped and have not been able to stop the violence that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and forced more than 2 million to leave their homes.

The AU Peace and Security Council has agreed in principle to hand over peacekeeping to the United Nations after its mandate ends Sept. 30, but the full union must give final approval.

On Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution imposing sanctions on individuals deemed at least partly responsible for the Darfur crisis.

Sudan has supported Janjaweed militias, which are massacring innocents in response to a revolt by two militias in its western region.

As part of the resolution’s implementation, President Bush yesterday issued an executive order freezing the assets of such individuals.

“These sanctions are aimed at those responsible for heinous actions being committed in Darfur,” Mr. McClellan said.

“The United States will continue to work with its international partners to provide humanitarian assistance, support human rights and bring peace to Darfur.”

The crisis has forced Chad to seal its border with Darfur, which is threatening food deliveries to 400,000 displaced people.

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