By Sam Youngman - 10/20/09 12:09 AM EDT
The Obama administration on Monday unveiled a new policy on the Sudan that includes the possibility of incentives for that government, which has been charged with genocide.
The policy continues sanctions in place since the George W. Bush administration, but allows for unspecified incentives for Sudan’s government if measurable changes can be seen on the ground.
The move on Sudan policy comes as the administration faces criticism from the left for its policies on Afghanistan. President Barack Obama is considering increasing the number of U.S. troops in that country, though his own party is divided on the matter.
The left has also been wary of Obama on Sudan and the conflict in Darfur.
Groups have been waiting for Obama to act forcefully against Sudan’s government, which he criticized during the 2008 campaign for committing genocide. The groups have been unnerved by comments from some members of the administration that sanctions against the country are not working.
But activist groups reacted positively to the new policy on Sudan. The Save Darfur Coalition and a number of activist groups were invited to the White House on Monday to be briefed on the policy change.
“The strategy they’ve put in place reflects an effective way to move forward, but we’ll be watching,” one participant in the briefing said.
This source said activist groups in general have a collective sense that the White House is saying the right things on Darfur after months of internal administration debate.
But the groups will wait to see if Obama himself gets involved and follows through, the source said.
“It was a necessary step but not a sufficient step,” the participant said.
The meeting with humanitarian groups was held with Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, the special envoy to Sudan, who in recent months had argued that sanctions had not been effective.
Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes; Michelle Gavin, senior director for African Affairs; and National Security Council members Samantha Power and Gayle Smith also attended the meeting, according to an administration official.
Obama announced the new policy in a statement Monday morning.
“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,” Obama said.
During the presidential campaign, Obama said one of his top priorities would be to ensure there is an adequately funded and aided protective force on the ground in Darfur to ensure the end of the genocide there.
“We need to see substantial personal involvement from President Obama — for example, he must make Sudan a priority when he goes to China next month,” Fowler said.
China has a trading relationship with Sudan that critics say allows the Sudan regime to survive sanctions imposed by other governments.
Fowler said incentives should not be provided unless concrete and lasting progress is made in resolving Sudan’s crisis. He also called on the U.S. to generate multilateral support for incentives and pressures on Sudan.
Fowler told The Hill that he is taking the same approach toward the new strategy that the White House says it will take with the Sudanese government: “verify, then trust.”
Obama’s administration has been in the middle of protracted decisionmaking processes about the way forward in Afghanistan and Sudan.
Liberal groups and many Democratic lawmakers have railed against the president’s consideration of sending as many as 40,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, as has been reportedly requested by the top U.S. military and NATO commander in the region, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
On both issues, Obama risks fights with the base of his party.
Mike Ferner, board president of Veterans for Peace, one of the groups that marched on the White House earlier this month to protest escalation in Afghanistan, said the president will “pay the price” politically if he ignores the part of his base that voted for him based on his opposition to the Iraq war.