Darfur’s ticking clock

GIVEN THE LAST half-decade of deceit and misery in the Darfur region of Sudan, and the international community’s repeated broken promises to do something about it, it seems cruel to ask the 2.5 million refugees there to wait a few more weeks while the U.N. weighs its options. Yet that’s exactly what Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked for -- and the Bush administration is rightly inclined to give him the time.

The new wrinkle is that China is newly engaged on this issue, a welcome development. Also, the government of Sudan has reversed its position of a month ago and accepted the deployment of an additional 3,000 U.N. peacekeepers. Whether Khartoum means to honor the deal it signed in November to allow a 22,000-member U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force into Darfur remains an open question, and at any rate, it’s unlikely that the additional forces will be sufficient to protect the millions needing protection or the 13,000 besieged relief workers trying to feed them.

Still, President Bush’s special envoy on Sudan, Andrew S. Natsios, told the Senate on Wednesday that the U.S. has agreed to a request by Ban to delay imposing stiffer economic sanctions on Sudan for two to four weeks to give diplomacy time to work. The U.N. hopes to broker talks between 15 rebel groups and Khartoum. Natsios credited quiet pressure from China, a major customer for Sudan’s oil, for Khartoum’s about-face. He also argued that U.S. financial sanctions, aimed at punishing Sudan’s dollar-denominated oil transactions, would be more effective if combined with European measures against Sudanese commercial dealings in euros.

A month is not long to wait for diplomacy to work -- but Darfurians cannot long survive further delays. When the time comes, the Bush administration should be prepared with more than the stiffer economic sanctions it threatened nearly four months ago. If Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir continues to stonewall, the U.S. should immediately bring a U.N. Security Council resolution against Sudan to a vote.

This would test China’s newfound willingness to pressure its Sudanese oil supplier. If Beijing decides to use its veto to enable ongoing atrocities in Darfur, let it take responsibility for that stance. But Beijing might rise to the challenge and recognize that the international imperative to stop evils such as nuclear proliferation and genocide trumps national sovereignty and parochial concerns.


And if the U.N. deadlocks, the Bush administration should immediately begin campaigning for a global economic “coalition of the willing” against Sudan.