Obama Administration Sudan Envoy Headed to Region

Mar 30, 2009 6:26pm

ABC News’ Kirit Radia reports:

The Obama administration’s new envoy for Sudan, retired Air Force Major General Scott Gration, will depart on his first official trip to the region tomorrow. He’s expected to make stops in Khartoum, the capital, and in Darfur.

Today Gration met at the White House with President Obama and representatives from Darfur advocacy groups.

Advocacy groups appeared to like what they heard.

"The coalition was reassured to hear the Obama administration’s commitment to bring peace to Sudan," Save Darfur Coalition president Jerry Fowler said in a statement after the meeting.

Gration’s visit comes as tensions have increased between Washington and Khartoum over President Omar al-Bashir’s decision to expel major foreign aid groups from the country after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest for crimes in Darfur.

"During his trip to Sudan this week, it is critical that Special Envoy Gration convey to the Sudanese government that they now face a fundamental choice as a direct result of President Bashir’s actions," Fowler added. He urged Gration to visit other countries to enlist their support.

In an interview with ABC News, Fowler said his group "underscored a sense of urgency" during the meeting with Obama and Gration.

"The initiative has to be siezed," he said.

Aid groups have warned that the decision could spawn a humanitarian disaster as many in the troubled region depend on foreign aid for survival. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said Bashir would be considered responsible for every death that is caused by the expulsion.

Bashir has so far thumbed his nose at an ICC warrant, making several high profile trips abroad where he has been embraced by foreign leaders. So far he’s been warmly received in Eritrea, Egypt, and now at the Arab League summit in Qatar.

The US has been carefully not to explicitly endorse the ICC warrant, since the US does not recognize its authority, but has called for those responsible for genocide in Darfur to be held accountable.

During the campaign last year President Obama pledged to devote his efforts to resolving the crisis in Darfur.

Asked if President Obama was fulfilling those promises, Fowler told ABC News it was too soon to tell, but that early signs were encouraging.

"The appointment of a full-time envoy, one that he’s got a close relationship with and confidence in is an important step but an early step," he said

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