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Sudan ready to talk to U.S. envoy, wants normalcy
Wed Mar 18, 2009 1:56pm EDT
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By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Sudan's U.N. ambassador said on Wednesday that Khartoum was ready for constructive talks with a new U.S. special envoy, adding that he hoped Washington was prepared to reciprocate.
"Sudan wants constructive engagement and normal dealings with the U.S.," Sudanese Ambassador Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem told Reuters in an interview.
"We are ready for dialogue and cooperation," he said. "We hope the U.S. will reciprocate."
As the humanitarian crisis in Sudan's western Darfur region worsens, U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce the appointment of retired Air Force General Scott Gration as his special envoy to Sudan, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.
Sudan expelled 13 aid groups after the International Criminal Court charged Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir with war crimes in Darfur, where 4.7 million people rely on foreign assistance for food, shelter and protection from fighting between rebels and government-backed forces.
Abdalhaleem said Khartoum had not been informed of Obama's choice of Gration as his special envoy, nor had it been consulted. He said Sudan was withholding judgment on the wisdom of the choice for the time being.
"We will address this issue and decide on the basis of his mandate, what he brings and what he stands for," he said.
Abdalhaleem has previously said that Khartoum would prefer that the United States appointed a full ambassador to Sudan, not a special envoy. The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum is headed by a lower level official, known as a charge d'affaires.
The United States imposed economic sanctions on Sudan in 1997 and labeled it a "state sponsor of terrorism." Khartoum has been pushing for full normalization of relations with Washington and an end to more than a decade of U.S. sanctions.
Gration, a decorated fighter pilot and son of missionary parents, was raised in Africa and is fluent in Swahili.
Obama has pledged U.S. help in addressing the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, where U.N. officials say as many as 300,000 people have died since rebels rose up against the Khartoum government in 2003. Sudan says around 10,000 people have died.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Washington's U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, have condemned Sudan's move to expel humanitarian aid agencies and have urged Khartoum to reverse the decision. Rice has spoken of "ongoing genocide" in Darfur, a description that Sudan's government rejects.
Richard Williamson, former President George W. Bush's special envoy for Sudan, told Reuters the retired general's close relationship with Obama and his military background would serve him well.
"Frankly, I found it difficult to get much cooperation from the Pentagon and I'm sure the general will be able to deal with that more easily than I was able to," he said. Continued...
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Sudan ready to talk to US envoy, wants normalcy
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