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African Union Extends Mediation Talks on Darfur


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris. A last ditch effort is underway to reach a peace deal for Darfur. Talks are underway in Abuja, Nigeria and will likely continue through tomorrow. Representatives from the government of Sudan, rebel groups and African Union negotiators are participating. The Bush administration is also getting more involved. The State Department's number two man has arrived at the talks to push for an agreement. Coming up, we'll hear from Nigeria but first, NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on the growing U.S. role.

MICHELE KELEMEN: When Deputy Security of State Robert Zoellick and his team landed in Abuja, they went right into talks with African Union mediators and with rebels who oppose the peace plan on the table. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says Zoellick is in listening mode.

SEAN MCCORMACK: Listening to the concerns, listening to what are the various stumbling blocks in the views of the different parties to the talks, and hopefully listening to some of the ideas they may have to overcome any differences, to overcome these obstacles and to move the process forward.

KELEMEN: U.S. officials have been reluctant to make any predictions. Rebel groups are not happy with the proposals on wealth and power sharing, and on security arrangements. Sudan has accepted the African Union's peace plan, but Sudan's top envoy left the talks. Now President Bush is getting involved. Spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr. Bush called Sudan's president, Omar alBashir, to urge him to send his envoy back to Abuja to finalize a deal.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN: The President also stressed the need for President Bashir to accept the transition of an African Union mission to a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur, and to accept a NATO supportive role.

KELEMEN: Sudan has so far rejected the idea of the United Nations taking over from an understaffed and under-funded African Union force. President Bush is under a lot of pressure at home to do more to protect civilians in Darfur from a counterinsurgency campaign that the Bush administration has described as genocide. Susan Rice of the Brookings Institution fears that a rush to finalize a peace deal in Abuja will ease the pressure to get a more robust international force on the ground.

SUSAN RICE: The danger is that the international community looks at the situation and says, job accomplished, no need to do anything more robust. And the track record of the Sudanese government is such that that would be consigning the people of Darfur to further death and genocide.

KELEMEN: At the State Department yesterday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she is pushing U.N. and NATO officials to move ahead on plans to augment an African Union force.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Frankly, we need to shake the trees a little bit, shake the bureaucracy a little bit and say to people it's not acceptable to wait any longer for at least the planning for a robust security force.

KELEMEN: She says an international force will be largely an African one, with some other countries involved. Susan Rice says the U.S. needs to be specific about what's on offer.

RICE: We have to play a significant role with logistics, with airlift, with mobility, with command and control. We've got to be part of this. We can't do nothing.

KELEMEN: As for the diplomacy, she says some of the thorny issues have been papered over in the African Union peace plan, and she urged U.S. officials now in Abuja to use their presence there to get a fair solution. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.