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Will Obama Finally Pay Attention to Sudan?

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For the past seven months, U.S. diplomacy toward Sudan has veered dangerously in the direction of appeasing Sudan's ruling National Congress Party (NCP). Since taking power in a 1989 coup, the NCP has engaged in a systematic assault on the Sudanese people. The use of starvation as a weapon in Southern Sudan and the genocide in Darfur have killed nearly two and a half million people. Omar al-Bashir, the country's president, is the first sitting head of state indicted by the International Criminal Court. Under his rule, the body count continues to climb.

Some of the Obama administration's recent lowlights have included public and private rhetoric favoring incentives over pressure, talk of lifting longstanding sanctions without demanding anything in return, and a disconcerting lack of emphasis on the need to hold this heinous regime accountable for what this and the previous U.S. administration have declared genocide. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden talked tough when they were presidential candidates, but this administration's day-to-day diplomacy on Sudan has been troubling.

This has emboldened the ruling NCP to harden its positions at the negotiating table, continue military operations in Darfur, crack down on independent voices throughout the country, stir trouble in the South, and shut down efforts by international entities to independently monitor key developments on the ground. Engagement by the Obama administration with Robert McFarlane and others lobbying on Sudan's behalf only furthered the impression that Khartoum was on a fast track to normalization.

Finally, a ray of hope emerged on Monday. After months of delay due to internal disagreements, the administration unfurled its new Sudan policy. On paper, the new approach seems to have an appropriate balance of carrots and sticks that would only take effect, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, based on "verifiable changes on the ground."

This opinion piece originally appeared in this morning's Wall Street Journal.

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John Prendergast is Co-Founder of Enough, the anti-genocide project at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

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