The administration might view the Nafie meeting as a chance to break over 20 years of U.S.-Sudanese gridlock, or as the first steps towards striking the
"grand bargain" that has eluded both sides. There's ample reason to question the wisdom of this, beginning with Khartoum's long and reliable history of
bad-faith negotiation with the U.S., its neighbors, and armed groups within its own borders. But even with the assumption that detente is a proper and
justifiable path for U.S. policy to take, it's unclear why it necessitates the honor of a Washington visit for a man with a rap sheet as long as Nafie's.
This question becomes especially troubling in light of Nafie's own apparent marginalization within Khartoum's governing structure: in June of 2011, Nafie
helped negotiate a "framework agreement" between the
government and militants in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. Bashir personally disowned the treaty just days later, and by August, Khartoum
was running frequent bombing sorties over villages in the Nuba Mountains. Not only is Nafie an unsavory character -- he also might be incapable of
delivering what the U.S. wants.
The State Department itself seems to be at a loss here. Witness this exchange between State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell and a journalist at Friday's press briefing:
On Sudan, you took a question earlier this week regarding a letter from Congressman Wolf [see here] expressing his objection over the Obama Administration's invitation of the
Sudanese presidential advisor, Nafie Ali Nafie.
Can you confirm receipt of that letter?
So we have seen the letter from Congressman Wolf. We're aware of the allegation, and we're not under any illusions about this delegation or any of the
other senior leaders of the regime. However, we believe that engagements with this delegation can advance our policy goals in Sudan, and if we don't make
our arguments directly to the Sudanese, who influence and direct their country's policy, our ability to affect change will be limited. So this engagement
can set the stage for a continuing dialogue on a peaceful, sustainable resolution to the conflicts and governance issues throughout Sudan.
So you're under no illusion about Mr. Nafie Ali Nafie, but nonetheless he is still invited to come to the United States as part of that delegation.
And again, we agreed to receive the delegation. They expressed an interest in meeting, and we've invited the delegation to travel to Washington following
their initial expression of interest....
Is there any reason why the U.S. would be comfortable issuing a visa to Mr. Nafie? I mean, doesn't that erode the U.S. credibility by doing so? Why can't
you say to the Sudanese, "Yes, you can send a delegation, but you need to send someone else"?
We adjudicate visas based on applicable visa law. I don't have any information on this specific case or specific allegations, but we certainly adjudicate
all the visas based on the law.
Certainly, human rights groups that advocate for better conditions in Sudan and along the border with South Sudan are quite dismayed that the U.S. may, in
essence, raise -- remove all of its pressure on the Bashir government by allowing Mr. Nafie to come in.
We're - look, we're under no illusions about a specific individual or the leadership of the regime as a whole. But we are going to pursue this engagement.
The Obama administration needs to ask itself whether the still-unforeseeable political and diplomatic payoff of Nafie's visit is worth the moral statement
that such a visit conveys. As Friday's exchange makes clear, they still have a ways to go.