The following editorial appeared in Sunday's Washington Post:
The relentless awfulness of Sudan's civil war creates a temptation to believe that some new policy -- any policy -- might help to bring it to an end. For the past few weeks the Clinton administration has flirted with the idea of sending food aid to the southern rebels. This past week it rightly decided not to do that, at least for the moment: The move would have made humanitarian aid a legitimate military target, and the rebels' human-rights record leaves much to be desired. Now, however, talk is of softening policy toward the northern government. The administration should reject this idea, too.
The get-soft pressure comes partly from other governments, notably from Europe and from states neighboring on Sudan. Since Sudan's involvement in the 1995 assassination attempt on Egypt's president, the country has been the object of United Nations sanctions and diplomatic isolation. Recently, however, the Europeans have reopened a dialogue with Sudan. A consortium made up of Canadians, Malaysians and Chinese has moved in to profit from the country's oil riches, and Sudan has mended fences with its neighbors. America is looking isolated in its policy of isolating Sudan.
Moreover, optimists now argue that Sudan is improving its behavior sufficiently to warrant warmer treatment. It has shown modest interest -- as opposed to a lack of interest -- in peace talks with the southern rebels. It has released some political prisoners. It has cooperated more with human-rights monitors. Sudan's president seems to have sidelined the Islamist speaker of the parliament; this holds out the hope of better treatment for non-Islamic southerners.
These changes are worth noting, and there is no harm in reopening the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum to encourage more progress. But it is too early to lift sanctions. Sudan's slight advances are dwarfed by the distance it has to travel. Its government still harbors terrorists. Its human-rights abuses are still among the world's most abysmal. Despite the hopes of a move away from fundamentalism, the president still insists that non-Muslim children should attend Koranic schools.
Sudan may seem a distant problem, but the terrorists it harbors threaten this country. And the misery of its people -- 2 million dead, 4 million turned into refugees, countless imprisoned, tortured or forced into slavery -- is horrific. The administration should talk to Sudan's government. But it must let it know clearly that sanctions can be lifted only when war and the sponsorship of terrorism both come to an end.
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