WASHINGTON The Bush administration is coming under pressure from Christian groups and members of Congress to help Christian rebels in southern Sudan, but a nonpartisan group that includes many diplomatic experts on Africa is recommending the United States begin an international effort to end Sudan's 18-year-old war.
The conflicting recommendations come at a time of increased political turmoil in Sudan. An Islamist leader, Hassan Turabi, who was once allied with the president, Lieutenant General Omar Hassan Ahmad Bashir, has been detained, together with about 30 of his supporters.
The war in Sudan pits a northern Islamic government against southern Christian and animist rebels, and has attracted the attention of American Christian groups outraged by the displacement of more than 4 million southern Sudanese. The United States has spent more than $1.2 billion on food in the last 10 years to try to alleviate the suffering, but a study recently published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggests the time has come to work with the warring sides to end the conflict.
J. Stephen Morrison, a chairman of a task force at the center, said, "Realistically, the Bush administration has one policy choice: to press, at a high and sustained level, with major power partners, for a negotiated settlement to Sudan's war." The task force included Michael Miller, the policy director for Africa at the National Security Council; Walter Kansteiner 3d, who was responsible for the council's Africa policy during the first Bush administration, and several U.S. ambassadors who served in Africa.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has stressed that Africa will be a priority, and went out of his way this month to meet with leaders involved in the war in Congo.
But, while experts are calling for an all-out diplomatic effort that would also include the European Union, Canada and the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, Christian groups in the United States are urging the Bush administration to pay special heed to the rebels in the south.
Franklin Graham, who gave the invocation at President Bush's inauguration, has appealed to the president for U.S. involvement. Mr. Graham has said Mr. Bush seemed sympathetic to the situation, but that the president opposed sending any U.S. soldiers.
Mr. Graham runs Samaritan's Purse, a Christian evangelical organization that ministers to people caught in wars and natural disasters. The organization has a center in southern Sudan. Mr. Graham has not publicly asked for direct military assistance to the southern rebels, who fight under the banner of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army.
Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, has met with the new secretary of state to stress the severity of the suffering in the south.
Plot Seen Against Government
Sudan said Sunday that an agreement between the leading opposition Islamist leader and the main rebel group in the country's 18 year-old civil war was aimed at toppling the government, Reuters reported. That justified the arrest of opposition party members last week, a statement from the Sudanese Embassy in Cairo said.
Mr. Turabi, head of the Popular National Congress Party, and close aides were arrested in Khartoum on Wednesday for signing a memorandum of understanding with the rebel forces of the Sudan People's Liberation Army "to establish a democratic system, just peace and federal government in Sudan."
"The memorandum was signed with the aim of disturbing security and stability and bringing the downfall of the government," the embassy statement said.