The Bush administration endorsed an agreement between the United Nations (search) and Sudan (search) that requires the African government to create safe areas in its embattled Darfur region within 30 days so civilians can search for food and water.
"It's a good start," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Monday about the accord reached last week.
If Sudan and negotiators for rebels in the region convene for talks on Aug. 23, as proposed by President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, that "will be something important to be factored" into a U.N. decision on whether to punish Sudan, Ereli said.
The Security Council still intends to consider at the end of the month whether to impose sanctions on Sudan for attacks by Arab-led militia on black Sudanese in the country's sprawling, arid Darfur (search) region, the spokesman said.
In an apparent easing of U.S. pressure on Sudan, Ereli said, "Let's all work toward a resolution of this problem that does not require sanctions."
Foreign ministers of the 22-member Arab League (search), meeting Sunday in Cairo, Egypt, at the request of Sudan, a member, rejected "any threats of coercive military intervention in the region (to end the crisis) or imposing any sanctions on Sudan."
The State Department, meanwhile, continued to hold off making a judgment on whether the deaths and displacements of tens of thousands of black Africans in Darfur amounted to ethnic cleansing or genocide. Congress and some humanitarian groups have accused Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir's government of genocide.
At the behest of Secretary of State Colin Powell, the U.N. Security Council on July 30 gave Sudan 30 days to control the militia and facilitate relief efforts or face sanctions.
Yielding to critics, the Bush administration removed the word "sanctions" from the resolution to make it say "measures" against Sudan would be considered in 30 days. Powell said the meaning was the same.
Asked about the Arab League's (search) stand against sanctions, Ereli said Monday, "We would all prefer that the government of Sudan voluntarily take the actions" demanded by the United Nations.
"So let's work toward the goal of implementing what the resolution calls for so that the question of whether to pose sanctions doesn't need to present itself," the spokesman said.