Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf (R) added his voice to growing chorus expressing concern about the Obama administration’s handling of Sudan, at a moment when violence is on the rise in both the South and Darfur, and with the pivotal referendum on southern secession just seven months away.
The recent decision to send a U.S. official to the inauguration of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir set off many voices of disapproval. Wolf criticized the action and claimed it sent a message of legitimacy to the wanted war criminal. In 2009 the ICC issued a warrant for Bashir’s arrest for allegedly masterminding mass murder and rape in Darfur.
Some have argued that the low-level standing of the official sent to represent the United States sends a disapproving message through diplomatic channels to President Bashir. The State Department was quick to point out that Vice President Salva Kiir of southern Sudan was also sworn in during the event. The State Department also expressed its “continuing pledge that President Bashir should respond to the warrant for his arrest.” However, many Sudan watchers, including Enough, maintain that the United States undermines its leverage with the Sudanese government by not boycotting entirely, thus sending an unambiguous message.
In a floor statement delivered in the House of Representatives, Congressman Wolf quoted Enough’s John Prendergast, who expressed disappointment about the decision to send a U.S. official to the celebratory event. “The administration missed an opportunity to build leverage and lead by example, getting nothing in return for this reversal of longstanding U.S. policies; baffling and ineffective diplomacy.” Wolf said quoting Prendergast. “I couldn’t agree more,” he added. Wolf then drew attention to Vice President Biden’s trip to Africa this week, saying, “We can only hope that this trip marks the start of a new beginning for the administration’s long faltering and ineffective Sudan policy.” Watch Congressman Wolf’s full remarks:
As part of Vice President Biden’s delegation to Africa this week, Biden met with South Sudan President Salva Kiir in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi today to discuss the approaching referendum scheduled for January 2011. According to news reports, Biden expressed the need for ”urgent international attention and preparation,” given the high stakes of southern Sudan’s decision and the potential for mass violence. Vice President Biden is the highest ranking Obama administration official to meet with a Sudanese leader, and his trip to the region may signal re-engagement on an issue about which he was very outspoken as a senator.
Laura Heaton contributed to this post.