Speaking before the House Appropriations Committee, Powell said Thursday: "We're looking at a number of alternatives, one of which is a special envoy. We're also looking at what formal representation we might put into the region in Khartoum, as opposed to the current type of representation we have there."
A number of House lawmakers including House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, and Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., the chairman of the House panel that funds the State Department's operations budget, have called for a special envoy to Sudan.
At the hearing, Wolf made an impassioned plea for the administration to become more engaged in ending Sudan's 18-year civil war between the Muslim north and Christian south. He showed a four-minute video depicting the northern government's bombing campaign against the south.
Wolf has the backing of a diverse group of conservative and liberal constituencies alike, ranging from Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, concerned over the slavery, to evangelical Christians concerned about the persecution of their religious brethren in the south. The appointment of a special envoy has become a totem to this unlikely coalition.
While Powell didn't say it explicitly, his choice for assistant secretary for African affairs, Walter Kansteiner, indicates that policy toward Sudan may be moving towards closer engagement. Kansteiner, a National Security Council official from the first Bush administration, signed a February report from the Center for Strategic International Studies that calls for restoration of diplomatic ties with Sudan.
The bilateral relationship has essentially been broken off since U.S. officials were forced to leave the embassy in Khartoum in February 1996 for security reasons. All U.S. diplomacy since with Khartoum is conducted through U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Cairo.
The CSIS report calls for the Bush administration to "resume full operations of the U.S. embassy in Khartoum, including assignment of a senior talent as U.S. ambassador. This will require making the case forcefully that embassies exist to advance U.S. national interests, in friendly and unfriendly environments."
Sudan is viewed by the State Department as one of the most egregious violators of human rights on the planet. In 1995, Sudanese training camps were used by an 11-man hit squad that attempted to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Sudanese army has been sanctioned by the United Nations for bombing grounded U.N. relief helicopters, and was denied a seat on the U.N. Security Council largely because of its record.
And then there is slavery. A 2001 Human Rights Watch report said at least 5,000 slaves were held captive by government-backed militia groups.
Powell has expressed full confidence in his choice to head African policy at the State Department. Thursday he said: "I have secured an exceptionally qualified individual to serve as assistant secretary of State for African affairs, Walter Kansteiner, who has lived there and knows the region and has a deep love for the region. And I think he will be the kind of leader who will take a very active role in formulating and executing our policy."
The report Kansteiner signed in February also calls on the administration to focus U.S. policy toward ending the civil war between the north and south and urges both sides to accept what is called the "One Sudan, two systems" approach, a framework that allows for two regional governments, north and south, within one state. Egypt has objected to Sudan breaking apart into two countries.
The report calls for the Bush administration to "see the compelling need to appoint a special envoy to conduct roving consultations in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East."
That last part is critical because the civil war being prosecuted by the Sudanese government under Umar Bashir has become increasingly about the large oil reserves discovered two years ago in an area that geographically straddles territory claimed by the northern and southern interests.
Sudan's potential oil reserves, estimated at as much as 2 billion barrels, have led the north to initiate a campaign to relocate Christians living in the disputed areas.
The U.S. Commission in International Religious Freedom issued a report last month that called on the United States to deny foreign firms seeking oil in Sudan access to U.S. capital markets.
The commission's chairman, Elliott Abrams, said in an interview Thursday, "The commission has proposed that companies in the oil business in Sudan be barred from capital markets in the U.S." That controversial proposal is going to be resisted on Wall Street.
The commission has also proposed a full-disclosure commission, saying any company doing business in Sudan has to disclose fully what it's doing there if it wants to do business in the United States.
"My guess is that that is going to become law this year," said Abrams.
But before any new U.S. policy is formulated, Powell said he needed to get a commitment from the Sudanese government that certain practices end.
"We are making it clear to the government in Khartoum that there can be no better relationship with the United States until we see progress: first and foremost, stopping the bombing; and then second, serious work on getting more humanitarian relief into the region; and then serious work on getting rid of any vestiges of terrorist organizations within the country.
"And then we can start getting energized in the political process," he said.
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