Administration to send diplomats back to the Sudan Envoys to press Khartoum to stop backing terrorists

September 28, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Revising its strategy of treating the Sudan as a complete pariah state, the Clinton administration decided last week to put a handful of diplomats back in Khartoum to press the North African nation to stop harboring Palestinian, Lebanese, Egyptian and Algerian terrorists.

The Sudan's Islamic government welcomed the announcement as a victory in its efforts to soften the U.S. diplomatic line against it. But administration officials said that sending diplomats back to the Sudan would allow the United States to increase pressure on its government.

The United States says the Sudan is guilty of promoting slavery, torturing Christians, conspiring to plan the bombing of the United Nations headquarters and other New York City landmarks in 1993 and participating in an assassination attempt on President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in 1995.

"With a permanent presence, we can nudge and push and argue," said Timothy M. Carney, the U.S. ambassador to the Sudan, who was removed from Khartoum, the capital, in February 1996 with his staff of 24 diplomats and Marine Corps guards.

As many as eight U.S. officials, though not Carney, will return to Khartoum over the next few months to investigate human rights abuses, monitor and encourage peace talks between the government and a rebel army operating in the southern Sudan, and to push Khartoum to fulfill its recent public promises to oppose terrorism, State Department officials said.

Administration officials said the new embassy staff would also be able to gather intelligence on a number of terrorist groups they say are operating out of the Sudan, including the Lebanese Party of God, or Hezbollah; Hamas; and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

In early 1996, John Deutch, then the CIA's director, persuaded Secretary of State Warren Christopher to remove U.S. diplomats from Khartoum, citing rising security concerns. Over the last nine months, a consensus emerged within the State Department and the CIA to reopen the diplomatic mission, administration officials said, but two senior members of the National Security Council staff argued against reversing policy.

"The question was whether we would be giving the regime too much comfort," Carney, a consistent proponent of engagement with the Sudan, said in a telephone interview.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright broke the deadlock this month, administration officials said, after concluding that the Sudanese government's more moderate public stance over the last year should be tested. But to make sure that Washington's intentions are not misunderstood, the administration will increase levels of nonlethal military aid to Ethiopia and Eritrea, two countries fighting insurgencies supported by the Sudan, said a State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The administration is also considering new economic sanctions against Khartoum as well as renewed diplomatic efforts to persuade France and other European countries not to develop their economic relations with the Sudan.

Mahdi Ibrahim Mohamed, the Sudan's ambassador to Washington, said he viewed the administration's willingness to put diplomats back in Khartoum as a major development toward improving relations. "This is a natural step in the direction of deepening the dialogue and intensifying it and diversifying it," he said.

Asked if his government would now respond to U.S. concerns about the Sudanese government's alleged encouragement of terrorism, he said, "I don't want to be dragged into issues that only perpetuate hostilities between our two countries."

The Sudan has made a concerted effort to promote a more moderate image. Last year, the ruling National Islamic Front deported Osama bin Laden, a Saudi-born financier of extremist groups, and also turned famed terrorist Carlos the Jackal over to the French government.

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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