South Africa, supported by China, is trying to persuade the United Nations Security Council to suspend the attempt to prosecute Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir for genocide and war crimes in Darfur. The United States, while opposing South Africa's current efforts, has hinted that it might support the move if the Sudanese government makes concessions to help bring peace to the region.
This has emerged from briefings in Pretoria and New York over the past two days.
The prosecutor of the newly-established International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, asked the court two weeks ago to issue an arrest warrant for Bashir. The Security Council has the power, under the statute which established the court, to defer ICC investigations and prosecutions for a year at a time.
South Africa's deputy foreign minister, Aziz Pahad, told a briefing on Sunday that he hoped the Security Council would "consider very seriously" the view of the African Union's Peace and Security Council and the Arab League that the prosecution of Bashir would jeopardize peace efforts in Darfur.
Pahad said the international community should deal with the issue in a manner "in a much better way that will not undermine the ICC and will enable us to deal with impunity in the broader context of reconciliation and finding solutions."
Speaking after Security Council consultations in New York on Monday, the U.S. representative at the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, said South Africa, supported by China and other countries, was trying to introduce the deferral of the prosecution into a resolution extending the mission of the UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). The U.S. believed this was "unwarranted," he said, and the Security Council was divided on the issue.
However, he left open the possibility of a deferral in future, saying "the situation is such that to move forward at this point… is premature. We think that there is more work to be done..."
He repeated the phrase "at this point" four times in a brief session with journalists, and added the Sudanese government "can do things that could… affect the situation positively."
Consultations on the extension of UNAMID's mandate will continue in the Security Council during this week.