Arriving in Khartoum yesterday, the head of U.N. humanitarian operations, John Holmes, sounded cautiously optimistic about the return of some key humanitarian relief groups to Darfur. Sudan continues to insist that having any of the 13 existing expelled groups return is ‘non-negotiable,’ but this looks largely like posturing. The ‘new’ groups would likely be some of the old groups operating under new names. While international diplomats and aid groups all continue to negotiate within the framework of the government’s ‘rebranding’ efforts – since it looks like the easiest way to resume much need aid shipments – such rhetorical posturing certainly does not serve the people of Darfur and their right to receive lifesaving aid very well over the long haul. The international community was forced into similar parlor games with Operation Lifeline Sudan in the earlier North-South war, and Khartoum’s consistent manipulation of lifesaving aid should be seen as unacceptable.
Also in Khartoum, U.S. Special Envoy Scott Gration called for “credible” 2010 elections in Sudan. Gration also called for progress in passing needed electoral legislation and general progress on the CPA, both of which are very reasonable positions. Interestingly, Reuters took Gration’s visit as “a sign the diplomatic detente between Washington and Khartoum may be thawing, despite the ongoing separate conflict in the western region of Darfur which U.S. President Barack Obama has called a genocide.” This also comes at a time when Chad is accusing Sudan of assisting a rebel attack on its soil.
All of these tensions – on Chad-Sudan relations, Sudan’s national election and referendum, Darfur and relief groups – highlight the very fine line which Gration and the Obama administration need to walk. On the one hand, they need to exercise the diplomatic flexibility needed to make a lasting peace deal work. On the other hand, if they demonstrate too much flexibility and patience with Khartoum, they will allow the Sudanese government to get away with even more of the cynical tactics that have already claimed far too many lives.