Accommodating Khartoum

September 21, 2006

Andrew Natsios, former administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, is familiar with huge, difficult tasks. He presided for a time over both the postwar reconstruction of Iraq and Boston's ill-fated Big Dig tunnel project.

Yet his new job as President Bush's special envoy to lead America's efforts at reversing escalating violence and bloodshed in Darfur - which must finally include the imposition of genuine sanctions - will likely make the other assignments pale in comparison.

Mr. Natsios' appointment this week comes nearly four months after the exit from government of the administration's last point man on Darfur, former Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick - and at a horrible new crisis point. Overwhelmed African Union peacekeepers are due to leave Darfur by the end of this year. But the Sudanese regime in Khartoum refuses to allow United Nation forces into the country to supplement and replace African Union troops.

It thus falls to Mr. Natsios to reverse a failed policy of trying to offer incentives to a regime that has seen such accommodation as a sign of weakness. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has no reason to respect U.S. and U.N. demands to put an end to the systematic destruction of Darfur's tribal villagers, because no penalties are attached.

Mr. al-Bashir was so emboldened after Mr. Bush's plea Tuesday for further action by the U.N. that he told reporters the genocide in Darfur is exaggerated by human rights groups seeking to boost donations and by Zionists hostile to Sudan's Islamist regime.

This comes as the regime is making a mockery of the peace deal negotiated in May by Mr. Zoellick. The Sudanese government and the only one of three rebel groups to sign the agreement have now allied against the other two in what appears to be a final push to wipe them out. Verbal assurances that Sudan would permit the deployment of U.N. blue helmets to enforce a cease-fire proved worthless, and promises by Khartoum to disarm the janjaweed militia - which has inflicted most of the atrocities on Darfur villagers - have proved equally hollow.

Mr. Natsios' mission now is to convince the Sudanese government that there are severe economic and political consequences for perpetuating an ethnic cleansing campaign that the international community has said it will not tolerate. But he will fail unless Mr. Bush and his Security Council colleagues are ready to prove it.

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