- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

Sudan blocked at State

The former Sudanese ambassador to the United States says the State Department repeatedly blocked his efforts to deliver messages on terrorism and human rights from the president of Sudan to the White House during the Clinton administration.

Mahdi Ibrahim Mohammed blamed the department's Africa bureau for failing to pass on three letters from President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir to President Clinton during a time when the United States was accusing Sudan of sheltering Osama bin Laden and supporting international terrorism.

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"I have no doubt that the messages I carried to President Clinton from President Bashir were not allowed to reach him, contrary to all diplomatic protocol," Mr. Mohammed told Arab News in a recent interview.

The State Department yesterday did not return a phone call seeking comment on Mr. Mohammed's accusations.

However, Susan Rice, assistant secretary of state for African affairs during the Clinton administration, dismissed Mr. Mohammed's claims.

"The State Department is not the gatekeeper," she told Embassy Row yesterday.

Ms. Rice, now with Intellibridge International in Washington, said senior officials at State and in the Clinton Cabinet met with Sudanese officials repeatedly.

"This is the same old Sudanese fraud they've been perpetuating for a while," she said of Mr. Mohammed's claims. "These are lies they've been recycling since September 11 to obscure their own active role as a state sponsor of terrorism."

Mr. Mohammed, ambassador here from 1996 to 2001, said the letters from his president "were serious, open-hearted and focused on all-important news on terrorism, human rights, the [civil] war in the south and the major issues that were of concern between our two countries."

In one letter, Mr. Bashir invited U.S. political parties to establish contacts with their "counterparts in the south and to help us establish peace and understanding," Mr. Mohammed said.

Sudan was added to the State Department's list of terrorist states in 1993, and the department's latest human rights report still cites the Sudanese government's "extremely poor" record on civil liberties. The State Department also accused Sudan of condoning slavery. A 20-year civil war between the Muslim-dominated government and rebels in the predominately Christian south of the country has claimed more than 2 million lives.

Mr. Clinton ordered the bombing of a suspected chemical weapons factory in 1998. Sudan insisted that factory was a pharmaceutical plant.

The former ambassador said Sudan knew little about bin Laden when the terrorist mastermind moved to that country in the 1990s. Sudan has been connected to various terrorist movements since 1969.

Mr. Mohammed said bin Laden, whose wealth came from his family's construction business in Saudi Arabia, built roads, an airport and other facilities.

"If Osama was doing anything aside from that, it was not known to us at that time," Mr. Mohammed said.

Timothy Carney, U.S. ambassador to Sudan under Mr. Clinton, told the Arab News in a separate interview that the Clinton administration "failed to respond to [Sudans] overtures on terrorism" after Sudan took steps against terrorist groups in 1996 in response to U.N. sanctions.

"Sudan gave assistance, haven and facilities to Middle East terrorist groups. It did not itself create or direct terrorist activities," he said.

Sri Lanka army support

The United States will send a military team to Sri Lanka on Sunday to identify "potential areas" for assistance, U.S. Ambassador Ashley Wills said yesterday.

Mr. Wills, in a statement from the embassy, said the four-day visit by the Pentagon team is a direct result of the meeting in July between President Bush and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

He called the visit another demonstration of "U.S. support for the government and people of Sri Lanka, as they seek to end the [separatist] conflict and reform their institutions."

Sri Lanka is preparing to enter peace talks next month with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage pledged U.S. help in defense, education, commerce, trade and civil rights issues on his visit to Sri Lanka this week.

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