The cautiously optimistic reactions to President Obama’s new Sudan policy (Congressional Sudan watchers Senator Feingold and Senator Kerry have weighed in now too) often attribute their reservation to same unknown: the contents of a classified annex, which apparently includes the details about which incentives and pressures are on the table.
Administration officials ducked questions about specifics throughout the day – Special Envoy Gration told PBS’ Ray Suarez ‘you can figure out what they are’ – but a backgrounder briefing at the State Department with two senior administration officials does provide some interesting details about the new U.S. approach.
The full transcript is worth a read, but one exchange about the Sudanese president in particular stuck out:
QUESTION: Yes, I would like to understand what kind of relationship there will be in the coming few months with President Bashir, who is already indicted and accused of genocide.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: We have no intention of working with – directly with President Bashir. We firmly believe that he should get himself a good lawyer, present himself to the ICC, and face the charges that have been leveled against him. But equally, we think that it is important to engage with interlocutors within the Sudanese Government in order to resolve the issues that continue to exist both in Darfur and in the North – the implementation of the North-South agreement. [Emphasis mine.]
This is a remarkably frank statement to make, particularly in light of the administration’s typical hedging on the ICC question as it applies to Sudan, or even its brief section on accountability in the official policy document, which conspicuously doesn’t include even a mention of the ICC.
For contrast, consider this: Amid allegations that senior Kenyan officials had a hand in the violence following Kenya’s flawed presidential elections, the Obama administration unambiguously called for human rights abusers to face justice. Speaking in Kenya’s capital last summer, Secretary of State Clinton issued a stern message: “I have urged that the Kenyan government find the way forward themselves,” she said, “But if not, then the names turned over to the I.C.C. will be opened, and an investigation will begin.”
If the statement by “Senior Administration Official One” in the Sudan briefing truly reflects the policy of the Obama administration, officials should be forthright in saying so.* And if that’s the case, administration officials should do everything in their power – even if only through discreet diplomatic channels – to see that Bashir faces justice in The Hague.
*More broadly, the Obama administration should probably also take another look at the decision to not join the ICC. It’s hard to be a very effective advocate for an institution you’ve officially slighted.