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Not Much Fun To Be A Spokesman

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Not Much Fun To Be A Spokesman

Posted by Enough Team on June 19, 2009

The predicted fallout from Sudan Special Envoy Scott Gration’s controversial remarks about genocide in Darfur and the return of the expelled aid groups (hopefully) hit a peak yesterday. Lots of sides weighed in, some of them spurred by a piece the Washington Post ran that prominently featured Gration’s comment that the "coordinated" genocide in Darfur has ended. A post on ABC News‘ Political Punch blog highlighted apparent fissures in the Obama administration’s policy on Sudan.

Enough’s executive director John Norris offers some context to Gration’s comments and the significance of Gration’s gaffe:



And from Thursday’s State Department briefing, the rather tortured back and forth on Gration’s comments.

QUESTION: There appears to be a significant division within the
Administration when it comes to Darfur and whether or not there’s a
genocide occurring there. Yesterday, we heard from Scott Gration who
said that he had been seeing the remnants of genocide and implying
that the worst violence is behind the region. But just on Monday,
Ambassador Rice described the violence as genocide. Could you clarify
for us exactly where the Administration stands on that?
MR. CROWLEY: I think there is no question that genocide has taken
place in Darfur. We continue to characterize the circumstances in
Darfur as genocide. What the President continues to demand is that we
resolve this humanitarian disaster. And the special envoy is doing
just that. Scott Gration, who briefed you yesterday, he has spent a
lot of time on the ground in Sudan. I think, as he acknowledged
yesterday, there is less violence as a result of coordinated
government actions than has existed in the past. And our goal in Sudan
is to save lives, facilitate a lasting peace, and promote stability
and security in the region.
QUESTION: So he misspoke yesterday when – because you were saying that
you believe that the conditions on the ground are – you said
circumstances described as genocide, but yesterday, he did not say
that. He said it was in the past.
MR. CROWLEY: I would say that clearly, going back to first, former
Secretary of State Colin Powell and up to the present day involving
the President, the Secretary, others, we have made clear – clearly, a
genocide happened in Darfur. And we can say just as clearly that the
situation in Darfur remains dire, and we’re working as hard as we can
to bring – as Scott said yesterday, to restore the humanitarian
capacity to help deal with that situation.
There’s room in the Administration for a debate about the
interpretation of the facts that go into that judgment, but it doesn’t
change our policy now, which is to focus on working as hard as we can
to improve the situation in Darfur and focus on the other elements of
the crisis in Sudan, as Scott outlined yesterday.
QUESTION: So taking that altogether, could you just say definitively,
yes or no, whether there is —
QUESTION: Is it still taking place?
QUESTION: Is there a genocide right now?
QUESTION: Is it still taking place right now, or not?
MR. CROWLEY: I can repeat what I just said. We continue to
characterize the circumstances in Darfur as genocide.
QUESTION: The Sudanese Government has been pretty ecstatic about the
comments that General Gration made yesterday. You’ve got a foreign –
the foreign ministry saying there was no genocide at all from the
beginning, there was no genocide at all, it was very good that this
has been stated clearly, referring to what General Gration said. They
are —
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t find that response to be particularly credible.
QUESTION: They are misinformed, then? Their ecstasy is misplaced?
MR. CROWLEY: I think, as General Gration pointed out yesterday, you
have urgent and multiple challenges going on in Sudan at the same
time. We recognize that in dealing with all of these challenges, we
will have to deal with the Sudanese Government in some way, and we
hope that the Sudanese Government will, in turn, constructively work
with the United States and the international community to help resolve
not only what’s happening in Darfur, but the challenges that happen in
other parts of the country.
QUESTION: What – it’s the same thing. Do you want to move on?
QUESTION: Same thing.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: What is the situation with aid groups at the moment in
Sudan? It seems quite unclear. There are quite a few aid organizations
who say that, you know, Gration’s comments gave the impression that
everything was fairly hunky-dory at the moment.
MR. CROWLEY: Oh, I think that’s an unfair characterization. General
Gration, as I recall, spoke about the fact that from the point where
the Government of Sudan irresponsibly kicked out a number of NGOs, we
have worked hard and are in the process of restoring humanitarian
capacity to the country. And I think he outlined very specifically
that in some areas, we’re back to a hundred percent; in some areas,
we’re working to get back to where we were; and more importantly,
we’re working to see how we can expand that capacity even further.
So I read very carefully General Gration’s comments yesterday, and I
think it’s a mischaracterization to say just because things are not
less worse than they might have been a few years ago, I don’t think
anyone would describe the situation in Sudan as just – it’s urgent,
it’s dire, and the people of Sudan deserve better.
QUESTION: This meeting next week that he’s – that General Gration spoke about —
MR. CROWLEY: The CPA meeting?
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you expect Darfur to play any kind of a – will that
be on the agenda at all? The Sudanese seem to think it will be.
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I would go back to General Gration’s briefing
yesterday. I think he identified a number of challenges that Sudan is
facing, but he also mentioned the fact that in many ways they are
interlinked to resolve – you have to focus attention and energy on all
of them if you’re going to be able to resolve all of them.
But I think the focus is primarily on the challenge of North-South and
the future of Sudan itself. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the issue
of Darfur is there as well.
QUESTION: Who’s coming from Sudan for that? Who’s representing both sides?
MR. CROWLEY: We can get you those names. I’ll take that question.
QUESTION: Thank you.