WASHINGTON – The U.S. special envoy to Sudan wants to ease economic sanctions on the government of Sudan.
Jonathan Gration,who became the envoy in March,said during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday that sanctions prevent the United States from stabilizing Sudan.
Sudan has endured an on-again-off-again civil war for more than 20 years and an ethnic-cleansing crisis in the Darfur region since 2003.
“We need some space on sanctions,” Gration said.
He said sanctions prevent the Sudanese people from receiving proper education. Sanctions also hinder communication with the southern part of the country and prevent it from receiving resources,he said.
Gration said his greatest priority is stabilizing the region in preparation for the 2011 referendum,in which the southern Sudan region will decide whether to secede and establish its own country.
South Sudan is mainly composed of Christians,and north Sudan is mainly dominated by Muslims. The ideological divisions in populations have fueled the country's ongoing conflicts,including Darfur,where government-backed militias have killed and displaced thousands of Sudanese.
Gration said the United States will initiate a new strategy in Sudan that includes incentives,along with pressure,to encourage the Sudan government to work toward stabilizing the region.
“This is about coming together and making sure the United States' objectives are being met,” he said.
Sen. Russ Feingold,D-Wis.,said he was concerned that the Sudan government would not comply with the United States' diplomatic strategy,adding the government has a history of “foot dragging.”
Feingold said he wanted to know more about the Obama administration's punitive strategy if the diplomatic route fails.
Gration said he would inform the committee of possible punitive responses in a classified setting.
“I believe we have a balanced approach that includes both incentives and pressures,” he said. “In many ways,the lack of incentives is turning out also to be a pressure.”
Witnesses at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing Thursday criticized Gration's notion of relaxed sanctions and relaxed punitive actions.
“I don't think he presented a set of compelling reasons,” said John Norris,executive director of the Enough Project,which works to end humanitarian crises.
He said stability depends on the Khartoum government to act properly. Norris said the government cannot do that without pressure from the United States.
Richard Winter,former special envoy to Sudan under the Bush administration,said the Sudan government should be relieved now that Gration wants to ease pressure on it. He said the United States should not have revealed its intentions on how it will deal with the Sudan government.
“I never met a card player who shows all their cards at the beginning of the game,” Winter said.
He said the Sudan government knows the United States strategies and that nothing will surprise them. He said the Sudan government will ignore diplomatic pressure without the threat of punishment.
“Any kind of engagement … is not the right course of action because you cannot just provide carrots,” Winter said. “You need to provide sticks.”