- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Sudan denies blame

The head of the Sudanese Embassy is angered over press reports and U.S. officials blaming his government for the deadlock in peace talks with three rebel groups in his African nation, as Washington increases pressure on Sudan to reach a compromise.

“It is vital to set the record straight,” Khidir Haroun Ahmed, the charge d’affaires, said this week, after the African Union extended a deadline for the Sudanese government and the rebels to settle differences over the peace proposal.

Mr. Ahmed reiterated that his government has accepted the plan set forth by the African Union in talks held in Abuja, Nigeria.

“The government made its position crystal clear to all those participating in the talks in Abuja,” he said.

“My government accepts the AU’s package agreement that contains to our satisfaction — and to the satisfaction of the AU and others who helped develop the package — detailed plans to address the critical issues of disarmament and other security matters, revenue sharing, power sharing, compensation, future talks on autonomy and related political issues. It is designed to address the highly charged issue of the Janjaweed.”

The government has been accused of arming the Janjaweed Arab militias in a campaign against civilians in the Darfur region of Sudan.

President Bush has accused the Sudanese government of genocide and encouraged protests across the United States to bring pressure on the Sudanese government. Mr. Bush also announced targeted sanctions against the property held in the United States by four Sudanese officials linked to the violence in Darfur. Last week, five congressional Democrats were arrested in Washington on charges of unlawfully protesting outside the Sudanese Embassy.

“It is fascinating to watch and hear critics of Sudan make statements on the [peace] package that are ill-informed or intended to provide support for the apparently intransigent positions of the three rebel groups,” Mr. Ahmed said.

“The comments and gratuitous suggestions of U.S. naysayers are counterproductive to the interests of all involved in the peace talks, which are designed to end the conflict in Darfur and ease the suffering of the people in that area.”

Envoy to ASEAN

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee thinks it is time the United States had an ambassador assigned to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) because of the growing importance of the group’s 10 members in issues such as trade and terrorism.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, this week proposed legislation to create the position to advance the U.S. relationships with the fast-growing countries in the region.

He said Washington now has only bilateral relations with the members of ASEAN.

“However, as ASEAN develops an integrated free trade area and addresses matters of common concern with the United States — ranging from environmental and financial challenges to avian influenza and terrorism — it is appropriate for the United States to enhance its overall relationship with ASEAN,” he said in a statement posted yesterday on his Web site (https://lugar.senate.gov).

The members of ASEAN are Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

French kiss

A top U.S. diplomat told France this week that all is forgiven over its opposition to the Iraq war and that Paris is now one of Washington’s best allies on the U.N. Security Council.

“I can tell you [that] in Washington, we have no better partner right now on most of these issues that occupy the Security Council than the French government,” R. Nicholas Burns told reporters in Paris, where he attended a meeting on Iran’s nuclear program.

Mr. Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, is the third-highest ranking diplomat at the State Department.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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