, WASHINGTON, Oct 19 – President Barack Obama unveiled on Monday a new US policy of engagement with Sudan, but warned Khartoum to expect a tough response if it ignored fresh incentives to improve the situation in Darfur.
Abandoning past attempts to isolate Sudan, Obama and top diplomats laid out a new carrot-and-stick approach aimed also at ensuring that a 2005 peace deal is fully implemented and that it does not become a "safe haven for terrorists."
"We are looking to achieve results through broad engagement and frank dialogue," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters.
"But words alone are not enough," said Clinton. "Assessment of progress and decisions regarding incentives and disincentives will be based on verifiable changes in conditions on the ground."
The top US diplomat warned that "backsliding by any party will be met with credible pressure in the form of disincentives leveraged by our government and our international partners."
Clinton said, for example, that the Obama administration would watch for "credible elections" scheduled for next year under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
The planned elections have already been twice postponed amid differences between the Khartoum government and the southern former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) over a planned census and a new electoral law.
A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said US diplomats would engage with Sudanese government officials but not directly with President Omar al-Beshir, who faces war crimes charges over Darfur.
"We have no intention of talking with President Beshir," the official said. "We think he should get himself a good lawyer… and face the charges."
A top adviser to President Beshir welcomed the change of tack by the Obama administration.
"Compared to previous policies there are positive points… we don’t see the extreme ideas and suggestions which we used to see in the past," Ghazi Salaheddin told reporters. "I will say it is a strategy of engagement, not a strategy of isolation."
Beshir faces an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant issued in March, accusing him of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in the western Darfur region. In July, the ICC prosecutor said he has enough evidence for a further arrest warrant against Beshir for genocide.
The United Nations says up to 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million fled their homes since ethnic minority rebels in Darfur first rose up against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum in February 2003.
The government says 10,000 people have been killed.
A 22-year civil war in southern Sudan only ended in 2005, in what had been Africa’s longest civil war. Elections are now planned in February and a historic independence referendum is due in 2011.
Clinton, flanked by Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, and General Scott Gration, the special US envoy for Sudan, warned that oil-rich southern Sudan risked becoming a "flashpoint for renewed conflict," if further steps were not taken.
Rice warned of "significant consequences" for any parties in Sudan who failed to live up to their promises and said there would be "no rewards" for the status quo.
In a statement, Obama said the United States and the international community must "act with a sense of urgency and purpose" as they "seek a definitive end to conflict, gross human rights abuses and genocide in Darfur.
"If the Government of Sudan acts to improve the situation on the ground and to advance peace, there will be incentives, if it does not, then there will be increased pressure imposed by the United States and the international community."
On the measures the US was considering, Clinton said: "We have a menu of incentives and disincentives, political and economic, that we will be looking to, to either further progress or to create a clear message that the progress we expect is not occurring."
"But we want to be somewhat careful in putting those out. They are part in fact of a classified annex to our strategy that we’re announcing the outline of today."