Bush, Annan Agree for Peacekeeping Force in Darfur

President Bush and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan agreed on Monday to work with other nations to have an effective peacekeeping force in Sudan's Darfur region, but Annan did not ask the president to supply U.S. troops.

Annan said last week that he would ask Bush for the United States to play a major role in a peacekeeping force, saying Darfur's plight was too severe for rich nations to simply fund the mission while Third World nations contribute troops.

But after meeting with Bush in the Oval Office, Annan told reporters it was too early to ask for U.S. military support because contingency planning is still being conducted.

"Once we've defined the requirements, then we approach the governments to see specifically what each of them will do in terms of troops, in terms of equipment," Annan said.

"I'm very happy that we have agreed to work together on the Darfur issue, working with other governments from Europe and Asia and other regions to ensure that we do have an effective security presence on the ground," Annan said.

"This is an issue where all governments have to play their role," he said.

The United States currently pays about a quarter of the U.N. peacekeeping budget, which topped $5 billion in 2005, but provides a small percentage of troops or police.

"I think he (Bush) did agree that we need to get the right type of force on the ground and he's prepared to work with other countries and with me to make sure that we have the troops on the ground," Annan said.

The large Darfur region of western Sudan has been torn by violence since February 2003 in a conflict between non-Arab rebels and government forces, backed by militia allies. The Arab militiamen in particular are accused of atrocities against non-Arab civilians. The U.N. estimates 180,000 people have died, mainly from war-induced hunger and disease, and some 2 million have been displaced.

Bush noted that he recently met with Rebecca Garang de Mabior, a government minister in southern Sudan's autonomous government empowered by a U.S.-supported peace agreement that ended a two-decades-long civil war in that East African country. She is the widow of John Garang, who became vice president of Sudan under the agreement but was killed in a helicopter crash shortly after it took effect.

Mrs. Garang was among guests at the Jan. 31 State of the Union address in the balcony with Bush's wife, Laura Bush.

"I told the secretary general that Mrs. Garang was in to see me the other day, and that we had a long discussion ... not only about the Darfur region, but about implementing" a fragile accord in the North-South war, Bush said.

The two leaders also discussed Iran, the Middle East and transforming the United Nations and how it works.

"We talked about U.N. reform, structural reform, management reform, as well as the reform of the Human Rights Commission," Bush said. "I was most interested in the secretary general's thoughts. I appreciate very much his leading on these issues, and we'll continue to work closely."

The current U.N. Human Rights Commission has been widely criticized as an irrelevant body that is powerless to stamp out abuses because its members include some of the worst offenders and it has no mandate to punish violators. Members in recent years have included Sudan, Libya, Zimbabwe and Cuba.

Annan said he and Bush agree on the need to reform the commission.

"It should be done as soon as possible," Annan said. "The president of the General Assembly, Jan Eliasson, is working very hard to ensure that we will have that done by this month, and that when the Human Rights Commission meets in Geneva, it will be in the process of transformation, it will not be business as usual."