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On Sudan, Senators Press Gration for Details

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On Sudan, Senators Press Gration for Details

Posted by Laura Heaton on May 13, 2010

Sudan watchers closely followed yesterday’s Senate hearing featuring Special Envoy Scott Gration testified about U.S. efforts to prevent a return to war in Sudan. Generally, the briefing was rather mellow, considering the way the senators have sparred with Gration in the past on implementation of the U.S. policy in Sudan.

Enough, along with three partner organizations, released a full statement yesterday afternoon reacting to Gration’s testimony. As the joint statement emphasized, the special envoy took the surprising position that he has everything he needs when pressed by the senators about whether he is adequately staffed and has sufficient involvement from his superiors.

In light of the faltering peace process and uptick in violence in Darfur, the daunting list of hot button issues between North and South, and security and governance challenges that exist as southern Sudan prepares for the likelihood that it will become its own state, one might anticipate that Gration would welcome the boost of attention that direct involvement by President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, and Ambassador Susan Rice would garner. Clearly, some part of the current approach is not producing the desired results.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) seemed to agree:

Effectively, what you’re sitting here and saying is you’ve got enough and the Secretary and the Ambassador are doing what’s necessary. If it doesn’t come together at the current pace, it’s on their doorstep, according to you. I think you ought to give a little more leverage into this effort because I don’t think it’s going to happen at the current pace, unless there is additional ‘oomph.’

Here are a few observations and points of note:

— Conspicuously, Special Envoy Gration was the only witness on the panel, so the hearing lacked the contrasting viewpoints that one would expect on a topic so controversial in nature. The senators certainly have an important role to play in their questioning of the witness, but it would have been helpful to advance the debate on U.S. policy if another panelist with deep knowledge of Sudan and the regional dynamics, possibly one with a contrasting viewpoint, had participated. Senators Kerry and Wicker (R-MS) both remarked about this shortcoming, which, given that Kerry called the hearing, makes one question why Gration was the lone witness. It will be interesting to see the testimony USAID submitted for the Congressional record.

— Two newsworthy acknowledgments from the special envoy: Gration agreed with a recent assessment by Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair that Sudan is currently the country most at-risk for mass killing or genocide. In response to a question from Senator Feingold (D-WI), Gration also confirmed that the Sudanese government has carried out attacks in Darfur recently, adding that the U.S. condemns this action. Here’s the exchange:


— Senator Feingold pushed Gration for concrete details about the pressures the U.S. has exerted, or plans to exert, on Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party in response to NCP efforts to obstruct peace. This is a point that Senator Feingold has raised in the past, so it’s a wonder that Gration’s office hasn’t sufficiently briefed the senators to clear up this question. Watch the interaction:



— Senator Kerry announced that he is working on legislation that will "help shape our Sudan policy and ensure that our policies maximize the chances of peace”:


— Senators Kerry and Feingold also announced subsequent hearings on Sudan in the coming weeks, so it sounds like there will be opportunities for follow up soon.