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By Andrew Quinn
Washington - The Obama administration on Monday said it would renew economic sanctions on Sudan, but also offered Khartoum new incentives to end violence in Darfur and the semi-autonomous South ahead of polls next year.
President Barack Obama, who during last year's US presidential campaign urged a tougher line on Khartoum, said the action was necessary to prevent the oil-rich African giant from falling further into chaos.
"If the government of Sudan acts to improve the situation on the ground and to advance peace, there will be incentives; if it does not, then there will be increased pressure imposed by the United States and the international community," Obama said in a statement, repeating accusations that the violence in Darfur amounted to genocide.
Sudan's government welcomed the new US approach, which it said exemplified "the new Obama spirit".
"This is a strategy of engagement. It is not a strategy of isolation," Sudanese presidential adviser Ghazi Salahadin told a news conference. "Compared to the previous policies, there are positive points."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US goals would be to end war crimes and other violence in Darfur and ensure implementation of a fraying 2005 peace deal between Khartoum and former southern rebels ahead of national elections next year and a 2011 referendum on southern secession, both potential threats to stability.
"We view the crisis in Sudan as two-fold," Clinton told a news briefing.
"The situation in Darfur remains unresolved after six years and the comprehensive peace agreement between North and South will be a flashpoint for future conflict," she said adding that it was also important to prevent Sudan from becoming a haven for international terror groups.
"We are looking to achieve results through broad engagement and frank dialogue. But words alone are not enough."
Clinton said Washington would seek to "reconstitute, broaden, and strengthen" international support for action on Sudan, where China in particular has been reluctant to support sanctions against one of its major oil suppliers.
Obama's special envoy for Sudan, former Air Force General Scott Gration, said Beijing was being "very helpful" and had its own reasons for backing stability and security in Sudan in the run-up to next year's elections.
"While we might have differences in some of the tactical issues, certainly strategically we have the same goals," he said.
Sudan's former southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) urged Obama not to go soft on Khartoum.
"There were reasons for which those sanctions were placed on Khartoum and those situations have not changed," said Anne Itto, a senior SPLM official.
The SPLM accuses the North of stalling on a democratic transformation outlined in the North-South peace deal, a necessity for Sudan to hold free elections due in April 2010. - Reuters