A senior House Republican wants the Obama administration to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of war crimes, if he arrives in the U.S. to attend a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly this week.
Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia said that allowing Gen. al-Bashir to enter the U.S. would embolden war criminals, compromise U.S. moral legitimacy and furhter entrench the Sudanese leader.
Gen. al-Bashir has applied for a U.S. visa to travel to New York to attend the annual U.N. session, which starts Tuesday. He said at a press conference Sunday in Khartoum that he has made plans to travel to New York, but U.S. and Sudanese officials declined to say whether he had been granted a U.S. visa.
Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti already has arrived at the U.N. and is expected to be joined by Interior Minister Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamed.
The International Criminal Court has issued two arrest warrants for Gen. al-Bashir on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan's western province of Darfur.
Gen. al-Bashir denies the charges and refuses to accept the legitimacy of the court.
As the host nation of the U.N., the U.S. has an obligation to grant visas to foreign officials who are traveling to the U.N. on official business.
"I understand that there are host-country obligations as it relates to the United Nations," Mr. Wolf said in a letter to President Obama. "Nevertheless, don't we have a higher moral obligation not to allow an internationally indicted war criminal to step foot on U.S. soil unless it is solely for the purpose of arresting him? Bashir has the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocents on his hand — Christian, Muslim and Animist alike."
"From this point forward, the message to Bashir should be: You are an international pariah; not a legitimate head of state. We are not required to embolden evil. Should you choose to come to New York, you will be met by U.S. law enforcement officials and a plane prepared to transfer you to The Hague," Mr. Wolf added.
If Gen. al-Bashir travels to the U.N., he will be the first head of state indicted by the International Criminal Court to set foot in the U.S.
Mr. Wolf, a longtime critic of Gen. al-Bashir, last year offered an amendment to the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill that would have cut non-humanitarian foreign aid to any nation that allows Gen. al-Bashir into its country without arresting him.
"Anything that delays Bashir being brought to justice is indefensible," Mr. Wolf said.
"You have before you a clear choice," he told Mr. Obama. "Will you turn a blind eye to slaughter and extend diplomatic courtesy to such a man? Or will you seize the opportunity presented by Bashir's brazenness and facilitate his transfer, as is legally permissible, to The Hague, such that he is finally made to account for his crimes?"
The U.S. is not a member of the ICC and is under no obligation to cooperate with the court.
A Sudanese official said the U.S. must approve Gen. al-Bashir's visa application.
"It is ironic that this issue has been raised as a pretext to criticize the application of President Bashir for an entry visa, when the United States itself is not a member of the ICC, openly objects to it, has not ratified the ICC treaty, and has bilateral agreements with most ICC signatory countries forbidding extradition of U.S. officials wanted by the International Criminal Court," said Seifeldin Omer Yasin, a spokesman for the Sudanese Embassy in Washington.
"Those who oppose the legally unquestionable right of president Bashir to attend and speak at the United Nations General Assembly are opposing the rule of law," he said.
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