Cannes, Asharq Al-Awsat- Sudanese President Lt. Gen. Umar Hasan al-Bashir has asserted that his country totally rejects the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces in Darfur, while also rejecting resolution 1706, “because it turns Sudan into another Iraq and places it under a UN mandate.” Al-Bashir affirmed that mediations and pressures targeting Sudan will be unproductive and the best that Sudan would accept is “an African force plus UN support.” In an exclusive interview with Asharq al-Awsat, the Sudanese president said that a partition plan is behind what is happening in Iraq, which is facing civil war. He called for a regional understanding about Iraq with the participation of the Arab states, Iran, and Turkey. Regarding Lebanon, Al-Bashir said that he would soon send his personal envoy, Dr. Mustafa Othman Ismail, to Beirut to resume his mediation with all the Lebanese parties to find a solution to the chronic crisis.
The following is the full text of the interview:
(Asharq Al-Awsat) The Arab mediation effort of Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa and your personal envoy has not produced any meaningful results in resolving the Lebanese crisis. Does this mean that it has failed or ended and who is responsible for its failure?
(Al-Bashir) We are interested in Lebanon whether we were the chair of the current Arab League session or not. All Lebanese communities love and respect Sudan. During the civil war, we had forces in Lebanon (as part of the Arab Deterrent Force), which were appreciated and respected by all. Therefore, it is our duty to undertake a special mediation, because we are convinced that we are acceptable to all.
I want to say that the Lebanese situation is charged with emotions, and when sentiments and emotions overcome logic, the situation becomes serious. I would not say that the Arab mediation had failed or stopped. We are continuing our efforts, because we are confident that the Lebanese are concerned about security and civil peace and do not want to return to civil war. In my opinion, this is an important point. Our envoy will again visit Lebanon in the coming few days to resume our mediation.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Will he go to Lebanon with Amr Musa?
(Al-Bashir) He would be the envoy of the Sudanese president. We are about to assume the presidency of the Arab summit, and what we are trying to do is to have the Lebanese come to the summit with a united delegation.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) In your opinion, who has torpedoed the Arab efforts until now?
(Al-Bashir) When we proposed the initiative, the obstacle was the cabinet composition, the veto power of one-third of its members, and the way to overcome this obstacle. I think there is a possibility to resolve this problem, because it is not difficult to find a Lebanese figure acceptable to all the Lebanese to become “the crown minister.” We will act on this basis.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) But, it seems that the real problem is the opposition to the establishment of the international tribunal. Local parties have reservations about it and Syria and perhaps Iran are against it.
(Al-Bashir) I think that those who carried out the assassination of Al-Hariri should be brought to trial. This despicable action, which had shaken Lebanon and the region and almost undermined their stability, should be investigated and the criminals should not escape punishment.
In principle, there is no objection to the establishment of the tribunal. The disagreement is about the details: the procedures for the establishment of the tribunal and its jurisdictions. The efforts to reach an acceptable formula are continuing.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What can we expect of the forthcoming Arab summit?
(Al-Bashir) As we know, the issues facing the summit are extremely important. The recent agreement between the Palestinians in Mecca was a good thing. We hope that the Palestinians would succeed in implementing it and establishing a national unity government before the summit. We are stressing the need to safeguard Palestinian unity, which is a safety valve, particularly following the decline in international and Arab support for the Palestinians. This unity is the only remaining positive element, and I hope that we would not lose it.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What can we expect from the summit on the Iraqi issue?
(Al-Bashir) The situation in Iraq is tragic by all standards. What is happening is not the prelude to civil war; it is civil war. Look at the ethnic and sectarian cleansing taking place. If the situation continues like this, it would lead to partition in Iraq. It is clear that there is a plan to partition Iraq, because moving the Arab citizens from Kirkuk and moving Sunnis and Shiites from their areas is just the prelude to partition and the establishment of Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish states.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Is this an American plan?
(Al-Bashir) I do not think that the United States has an interest in partitioning Iraq. The partition is an Israeli interest and goal. The Americans are the instrument.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Can the summit do anything in Iraq?
(Al-Bashir) Everyone is aware of the extent of the crisis and tragedy in Iraq. What is needed is not an Arab position, but regional agreement. Various sides are intervening in Iraq, and we cannot exclude neither the Arab states nor Turkey or Iran from the efforts to achieve a solution. A solution demands regional agreement.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Gulf, Arab, American, and international suspicion exists about the Iranian role in Iraq. In this atmosphere, how is it possible to achieve regional agreement?
(Al-Bashir) It is possible if the intentions are sincere. The countries of the region are interlinked. Arab-Iranian relations are vital, and the stability of the region depends on them.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What do you think about the charges against Iran with regard to its role in Iraq?
(Al-Bashir) To remove any suspicion, we in Sudan have discussed the issue with the Iranians. They assured us about their interest in the security and stability of Iraq. They told us that instability in this country would reflect negatively on the entire region and on Iran.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Iran has its own calculations with regard to its nuclear program and its conflict with the United States.
(Al-Bashir) We are convinced that Iran’s nuclear program and armament are not directed against the Arab states. Israel introduced nuclear weapons into the region. It is an expansionist power and has expansionist aspirations.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) There is talk about a tripartite Sudanese-Chadian-Central African summit on the sidelines of the Cannes summit. What do you hope to achieve in it?
(Al-Bashir) In the past, we held several summits of this kind. We signed several agreements with Chad, even before the Darfur problem, to control the border, which is witnessing problems because of the movement of tribes between Sudan and Chad–tribes that know no borders. There are 18 joint tribes with one leader each. They exist on both sides of the border. As for Darfur, the one that launched the rebellion there was a Chadian officer with the rank of colonel. Several rebellion leaders were Chadian officers. All the agreements we signed with the Chadians to control the border and establish a joint observation force have produced no results because of Chad’s failure to honor its commitments. Members of the Chadian regime are from the same tribe that is leading the rebellion in Darfur. When Idris Deby was trying to overthrow the regime of Hissen Habre, he obtained the help of his tribe, the Zaghawa, which is present on both sides of the border. The tribe is asking him now to return the favor to their brothers in Sudan. His security and intelligence services are working to support the rebellion in Darfur. Despite the agreements and discussions, Chad has not fulfilled its commitments, although we must affirm that the existing situation does not serve the interests of Sudan or Chad. The two countries have no choice but to cooperate, because security anarchy negatively affects both sides. We want to exchange benefits and not disagreements. We hope that the summit would open the door for settling the differences.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) The Darfur issue is at the top of the political agenda of the French-African summit. How do you see the solution to the present crisis?
(Al-Bashir) Foreign parties are behind the issue. They have fabricated and exaggerated it. Frictions and conflicts have always existed between the tribes.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) But, the view of the United Nations, its organizations, and various nongovernmental organizations is different. They talk about various atrocities.
(Al-Bashir) On the issue of the report, remember the reports regarding Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. What happened later? We think that anti-Sudan elements have turned their attention to Darfur after we had achieved peace in southern Sudan. They accused us of ethnic cleansing and that government instruments and forces are doing this. Here I want to say that Darfur is divided into three provinces with their own governments and local councils. If we look at the situation closely, we can see that the governors of two of the three provinces are from Darfur and that most of the administration, police, and security forces are from Darfur. The Darfur Arabs are nomads. Their educational level is low. Therefore, their presence in the security forces, administration, and political councils is very weak. Can you imagine that Darfur citizens are ethnically cleansing Darfur? All this is false propaganda. There is a rebellion problem in Darfur, and it is the duty of a government in any state to fight the rebellion. When war takes place, civilian victims fall, and this has been exaggerated.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) The question today is will Sudan accept a UN force, according to UN Security Council resolution 1706, to replace the African force or accept a joint force?
(Al-Bashir) We totally reject resolution 1706. Its acceptance would mean placing Sudan under UN mandate. We will not accept such a situation under any circumstances and willingly, because it would turn us into another Iraq. I want to say that we signed a peace agreement about Darfur. Deputy US Secretary of State Zoellick, the British minister of state for international cooperation, African Union envoy Salim Ahmad Salim, Head of the African Commission Umar Kunari, and representatives of the EU and the European states drafted the final copy of the agreement. The agreement called for the deployment of African forces to maintain security in Darfur.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) But, these forces have been ineffective.
(Al-Bashir) The African forces are suffering from financial problems. All the reports talked about the positive role of these forces. However, when the Western countries stopped their financial support, problems began. We think that the African force plus UN support is sufficient. What would change if the force changed hats and became a UN force?
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What would change is that a UN force operating under UN command would have a moral power not enjoyed by the current African force.
(Al-Bashir) The force is the force of the African Union. It was the mediator. The force was entrusted with the peacekeeping task in Darfur. When the peace agreement was signed, the government signed it with one rebel faction–the Sudan Liberation Army. The agreement called for sanctions against the party that did not sign the agreement if it continued to oppose it. Resolution 1706 was to the contrary. It punished Sudan. The Darfur Peace Act, which the American President signed, imposed on us additional American sanctions. On the other hand, the elements that rejected the agreement are moving freely in the Western capitals. They are receiving unrestricted financial and military aid, and because of this aid, they have succeeded in seizing control of the northern part of Darfur. We only heard subdued reactions from the world. Is this not a direct threat to Darfur and to security and peace? These movements exist in the refugee camps in Chad where they are conducting military training. Chad has opened its borders and airports to allow weapons to reach these groups and facilitate their movements to Darfur. This is taking place within the view of the United Nations and its organizations. So far, no one has condemned Chad or the states that send the weapons. They are only criticizing the government and the Janjawid.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Can we say then that irrespective of the pressure and the mediations, Sudan absolutely rejects a UN force or a hybrid UN-African force?
(Al-Bashir) Yes, this is our position. We accepted Kofi Annan’s three-stage plan. The first stage is for weak logistical support, and this is taking place. The second is for heavy support involving equipment, systems, experts, and technicians from the United Nations. This is acceptable in principle and negotiations are taking place to implement it. The third stage is the hybrid force. We have expressed reservations about it and submitted these reservations to the African Peace and Security Council, which issued a resolution that we accepted. Based on this resolution, an understanding was reached about the appointment of a special envoy of the UN secretary general, the identity of the commander of the force (African), and the way of appointing him (the African Union would nominate one and the United Nations would approve it). An understanding was also reached about accepting elements from the United Nations in this force and about the level of command. This is what we are prepared to accept, and this is what we call the African Union force plus UN support. Anything else is unacceptable to us.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Would you show some additional flexibility in Cannes?
(Al-Bashir) We have shown flexibility, but there is a limit and beyond it, we cannot go. In short, we cannot accept an agreement that would place us under a mandate and place our justice, police, and other systems under the control of others.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What does the United States wants from you? Does it want to change the regime in Sudan?
(Al-Bashir) Yes. There are elements in the United States that want political change in Sudan. Some groups in the US Congress, for example, are hostile to us, and whatever we do, we are unacceptable and would never be acceptable to them.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Does the administration of President Bush want change?
(Al-Bashir) I would not say the American administration wants change. It stood by us on the issue of peace in the south. The State Department played a positive role in reaching the Abuja agreement (on Darfur).
(Asharq Al-Awsat) But, the US President has imposed new financial and economic sanctions against Sudan recently.
(Al-Bashir) The American blockade is not new. The United States economic and financial boycott is also not new, and so is the boycott maintained by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Despite this blockade, we have reorganized our economy and achieved very high levels of development. Therefore, the American measures would not affect us. We turned toward the orient, and our relations are good and close with many of its countries. Our relations are excellent with China, for example.