Bush action on Sudan is limited

Times Staff Writers

President Bush’s decision Tuesday to exert new pressure on Sudan to end the violence in Darfur may have a limited effect because many of the people and businesses he targeted already are getting around existing sanctions, according to experts and business officials.

Bush’s measures also exempted some of the biggest players in Sudan’s economy, particularly Chinese oil interests and Sudanese firms that supply raw materials that are important to influential U.S. industries. China buys two-thirds of Sudan’s oil and is the largest foreign investor in the country’s oil industry.

The U.S. moves largely targeted small companies engaged in the business of oil, minerals and agriculture. Bush administration officials said putting sanctions on the larger firms would be “extreme” or even “militant.”


Nonetheless, administration officials said they hoped the announcement would “send a message” to the Sudanese government and said they would look at other options if the steps outlined Tuesday did not succeed.


Conflicting currents

Bush has spoken out repeatedly about conditions in the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur, but has been caught by conflicting diplomatic and political currents.

The president and other administration officials frequently have termed the killings in Darfur a “genocide.” And in the United States, Bush has felt pressure from evangelical Christians, many allied with conservative Republicans, and from some liberal Democrats to take stronger action against Sudan. But China, which has been increasing its oil purchases from Sudan and elsewhere in Africa, has fought tougher measures at the United Nations.

In his announcement, Bush added 30 companies owned or controlled by the Sudanese government to the list of those barred from the U.S. financial system. The step in effect freezes any money they have in U.S. banks and blocks transfers of funds through U.S. institutions.

Bush sharply criticized President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir of Sudan and said the United States would seek to isolate two Sudanese government officials and a rebel leader because of their roles in the continuing violence. He also asked the State Department to work on a toughened U.N. Security Council resolution intended to put new pressure on Sudan and ban military flights.

“The people of Darfur are crying out for help, and they deserve it,” Bush said.

Darfur, in northwestern Sudan, has been the scene of warfare since 2003, largely between the region’s Arab nomads and villagers who belong to farming tribes. Arab-led militias widely believed to be supported by the Sudanese government have been blamed for instigating much of the fighting, in which at least 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million displaced.


Bush’s announcement follows an effort by U.N. SecretaryGeneral Ban Ki-moon to end the fighting in Darfur.

U.N. officials complained that the U.S. sanctions could hamper the world body’s efforts. Though some expressed hope that Washington’s hardened stance would induce Bashir to work toward a cease-fire, they also said they feared the U.S. pressure might push the recalcitrant Sudanese president into a corner.

Although the White House had warned Ban that the sanctions would be announced as early as Tuesday morning, the secretary-general had asked for more time and seemed surprised by the timing of Bush’s announcement. U.N. officials said they had hoped at least for a more coordinated strategy.


‘Like Keystone Kops’

“It is not good cop-bad cop,” said John Prendergast, a Sudan expert with the International Crisis Group in Washington. “That would require a real diplomatic strategy. There isn’t one. Instead, it’s more like Keystone Kops.”

Lashing out at Bush, Sudan’s ambassador to the U.N., Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem, said the sanctions ignored recent progress.

“Sanctions have never solved a problem,” he said. “The secretary-general is for dialogue, but the Americans are just spoilers.”


The Sudanese ambassador said that he knew the three sanctioned men and that they had no foreign bank accounts. “I can assure you, all of them have no assets to freeze,” he said. “The sanctions are just a symbolic act.”

Kenneth H. Bacon, president of Refugees International, said the measures Bush announced were a step in the right direction, yet “limited, late and unilateral.” He said he also found it “disturbing” that Bush did not appear to have any European support, since European help will be essential to applying real pressure on the Sudanese economy.

Underscoring the possible limits of Bush’s measures, one company in Sudan said it has done well without U.S. financial ties. Advanced Petroleum Co., a Sudanese joint venture that is one of the newly banned oil companies on Bush’s list, has raised and invested more than $30 million for its search for oil in Darfur, all without help from U.S. firms, its president said in an interview this year.


What it left out

The administration’s list of targeted firms is noteworthy for what it left out.

For one, China National Petroleum Corp., which operates in Sudan, was not included. Likewise, Sudan’s government-dominated Gum Arabic Co. will not be subjected to sanctions. The company is one of the world’s biggest exporters of a sticky tree resin used in hundreds of consumer products, including soft drinks and makeup. It was exempted from previous sanctions after U.S. manufacturers argued that they needed gum arabic to continue making their products.

The U.S. buys about one-fourth of Sudan’s annual production of the commodity.

Individuals singled out by the United States were Ahmad Muhammed Huran, the Sudanese minister for humanitarian affairs, who is accused of helping organize attacks against Darfur civilians. Also named were military intelligence chief Awad Ibn Auf and Darfur rebel leader Khalil Ibrahim, head of a group U.S. officials have criticized for rejecting the fragile 2006 Darfur peace accord.



Gerstenzang reported from Washington and Sanders from Nairobi, Kenya. Times staff writers Paul Richter in Washington and Maggie Farley at the United Nations contributed to this report.