Sudan measure puts administration in tough spot

A bipartisan resolution denouncing both Sudan and the Arab League may place the White House in the difficult position of choosing between strategic and humanitarian interests.

The White House will face tremendous pressure to support the measure, which expresses disapproval for the Arab League’s holding its annual summit in Sudan, to bring attention to what has been deemed by many as genocide in the country’s Darfur region. However, such support may undermine U.S. intelligence-sharing with Sudan as well as diplomatic efforts in Darfur and Iraq.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) introduced the bill Tuesday with 36 co-sponsors, including senior House Republicans Dan Burton (Ind.), Dana Rohrabacher (Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.)

Pallone asserted that condemning the summit is another way of showing Congress’s awareness of the genocide in Darfur, adding, “If The White House will not act on the Sudan issue, then it is incumbent on Congress to take action.”

Will Adams, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), a co-sponsor, said the emphasis should be on pressuring the Sudanese government to end the hostilities. He also said the White House has not been willing to be as vocal as members of Congress on Darfur.

The resolution denounces the Arab League for scheduling its March summit in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, and asserts that the decision provides an economic reward for the country. It further states that the summit will encourage Sudan to continue to commit genocide against the people of Darfur.

The Sudanese government has been accused of “ethnic cleansing” against Darfurian civilians, stemming from a military conflict with separatist rebels that began in 2003, with fatality estimates ranging from 180,000 to 400,000.

A State Department spokesperson said, “The U.S. would welcome anything the Arab League can do to help influence the parties to bring about a swift resolution to the political and humanitarian crisis in Darfur.”

In the past, the House has had difficulty in passing legislation regarding Darfur. The Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, which was introduced in June 2005 and calls for sanctions against Sudan, is still in the International Relations Committee, while a separate bill, sponsored by Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), was stripped from a 2005 emergency supplemental bill. The Darfur Peace and Accountability Act is expected to move this year. It is sponsored by International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.).

Greg Simpkins, a legislative aide with Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chairs the Africa Subcommittee, said that Smith plans to lend his support to the Pallone resolution and that he was “fairly sure it will get through the subcommittee.” He added that he couldn’t see any reason why the measure would not come for a floor vote before the summit takes place.

A staffer on the International Relations Committee said that the bipartisan support and the backing of prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus, specifically Payne, would help ensure movement of the Pallone resolution.

The Senate’s recent history of bipartisanship on Darfur indicates a strong likelihood of passage. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and ranking member Joseph Biden (D-Del.) co-sponsored legislation on Darfur in 2004.

The Bush administration has cultivated a tense balance with Sudan over the past five years. In addition to sponsoring a U.N. resolution calling for an end to the violence in Darfur as well as negotiating with the government directly, the White House has also established an ongoing intelligence-sharing relationship, which could be jeopardized if the president supports the resolution. The Sudanese government has reportedly provided information on Islamic terrorists and aided the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in rounding up terror suspects.

This tension was highlighted when the CIA flew Sudan’s intelligence chief, Salah Abdallah Gosh, to Washington to discuss intelligence on al Qaeda — a move that offended members of Congress, the State Department and the Justice Department.

While U.S. relations with the Arab League have not been cooperative, the group could aid American interests in the Middle East. The Sunni-dominated delegation sponsored a national reconciliation conference among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq late last year that was lauded by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The Arab League has consistently supported the Sudanese government, including a call in 2004 to reject sanctions and international military involvement regarding Darfur.

The White House may look to ensure that the bill does not come up for a final vote. The move to strike the House bill from the 2005 supplemental came at the behest of the White House to preserve a Sudanese peace treaty, according to a report in The American Prospect.

Susan Rice, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former assistant secretary of state for African affairs under President Clinton, said that Sudan’s intelligence offerings during her time in office were not substantive and that there should be a very high bar for any improved relations with Sudan.

James Phillips, a research fellow in Middle Eastern Studies with the Heritage Foundation, also expressed skepticism about Sudan’s intelligence but asserted that the United States’ multilateral approach has been undermined by other countries, specifically China.