Delegation travels to U.N. to pressure Darfur

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) Monday led a bipartisan delegation to the United Nations to press officials there to increase their efforts to stop the Darfur genocide.

Hoyer and nine other lawmakers who traveled to Sudan in April met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Chinese, Saudi Arabian and Egyptian ambassadors to learn more about how to end the genocide, which has left at least 200,000 dead and 2.5 million displaced.

The meetings underscore bipartisan support in Congress to maintain political pressure on Sudan, China and the U.N.

The House Financial Services Committee Thursday will mark up legislation to ban federal contracts from going to companies that conduct business in Sudan. The bill would permit state governments to divest from similar companies.
“All of us are impatient that a more robust follow-on force under the U.N. and African Union is having such great difficulties,” Hoyer said in a telephone interview as the lawmakers traveled to New York’s LaGuardia Airport from Turtle Bay.

He added that he would allow lawmakers to add riders and offer amendments on spending bills related to Darfur.

Earlier this year, the House passed two resolutions on pushing Sudan to host a peacekeeping force, one directed at the Arab League and the other at China. The House also passed an amendment to the defense authorization bill that called on the Pentagon to study whether an airfield in Chad could be upgraded to support additional humanitarian missions.

For now, Darfur remains a cause célèbre among religious groups and the Hollywood elite. In the Democratic presidential primary, the conflict has become a way for candidates to distinguish themselves. From the campaign trail, 2008 hopefuls have criticized President Bush for failing to end the genocide and warned Sudan and China they face serious consequences if the contenders reach the White House.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) called for a possible Olympic boycott if China did not do more to pressure Sudan. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) has advocated the use of U.S. military force in Sudan. Most Democratic candidates favor a no-fly zone over Darfur.

The lack of action on Darfur has frustrated President Bush, too. During a meeting with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in June, Bush said, “If the U.N. won’t act, we need to take action ourselves. Enough is enough in Darfur.”

Western governments face two challenges in Darfur. First, they must persuade the Chinese to accept a hybrid U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy last week announced that they would travel to Darfur and that their respective countries would cosponsor a U.N. resolution calling for such a force.

The second challenge for Western governments is to unify the divided rebel forces, regional analysts said.  

Hoyer said the congressional delegation was “disappointed” with Ban’s determination that a larger force could not deploy until the end of this year — if one were approved by the U.N., that is.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said the lawmakers visited the U.N. “to nudge and push the Chinese and Egyptians to utilize their influence on Sudan.”

The Chinese ambassador, Wang Guangya, told the lawmakers that his country, which is a major importer of Sudanese oil and is heavily involved in the African country, would accept the troops only if the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, does, Hoyer said.

Wang did not appear to share the lawmakers’ sense of urgency and indicated a willingness to “wait, more or less, for political solution to take place,” Meeks said.

“We asked them to do more to get the government to do what’s right,” Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) said. “Wang listened to us, took some very good notes, and he really was not forceful on that point.”

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