Bush blocks campaign to put pressure on Sudan over Darfur

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The Independent US

The Bush administration and big business interests have been accused of undermining efforts to exert financial pressure on the Sudanese government to stop the killing in Darfur.

A bill that passed the US Congress endorsing state legislation to force publicly owned entities to sell off holdings in companies that do substantial business with Sudan, or sell Khartoum weapons, has now been blocked in the Senate, with campaigners blaming the White House. They say the long-delayed draft put forward last week by the Foreign Relations Committee had removed a clause known as Section 11 that would have thrown its weight behind a celebrity-backed campaign requiring publicly owned entities to dump stock.

"If the federal government is for divestment outright, they should publicly state so," said Jason Miller, a US-based Darfur campaigner. "If they are against divestment, they should publicly state so. If there's some middle ground where they agree with certain types of divestment but not others, they should have been open to compromise on Section 11 language. Instead, they gave us complete ambiguity."

The half dozen states that have already passed such measures, and the 15 more said to be studying them, now face the prospect of legal action from a big business pressure group with a track record of lobbying against economic sanctions.

The National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) has already sued the state of Illinois, which has enacted the most sweeping such measure. Despite the Senate action, California has become the latest state to draft a bill that would require state pension funds to identify companies in which they invest, and are involved with Sudan. These would then have 90 days to end the association. Failing that the funds would be obliged to sell the stock.

The move in California, which was inspired by a divestment initiative of the University of California, is another vivid sign of how individual states, academic bodies and celebrities such as George Clooney are now taking the action that the US government is unable or unwilling to take itself.

In fact, Washington was one of the first to identify the scale of the atrocities in Darfur, with the then Secretary of State Colin Powell declaring back in September 2004 that "genocide has been committed" in the south-western Sudanese province. Since then however, efforts have stalled.

Mr Bush himself has blown hot and cold on the issue, but last night finally named a special envoy to try to end the violence.

The envoy was not named but Andrew Natsios, a former Bush administration aid official, was considered the front-runner. The envoy would likely be named at the UN today.

Mr Bush will address the General Assembly today as the international community tries to persuade Khartoum to drop its objections to a UN peacekeeping force in the territory.

The US Congress has also been criticised, for failing to deliver a bill that would back up the individual state measures to step up financial pressure on Khartoum, by protecting individual states from being sued by companies affected.

In April, the House of Representatives approved a Darfur Peace and Accountability Act by an overwhelming 416 votes to three, containing such a provision. But the Senate has dragged its feet on moves to reconcile the House bill with its own version, passed in November 2005, so that an agreed measure can be sent to President Bush.

In fact, the prime targets of the legislation by the states are not American companies ­ already barred from doing business with the government of Sudan ­ but Chinese concerns helping the development of the country's oil industry, and various European companies including Siemens, Shell, and Finmeccanica of Italy.

Sudan is also considered an important intelligence ally in the "war on terror".