U.S. Willing to Support Sudan Peace Mission

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said the United States would give financial assistance to African Union (search) troops on a proposed mission to end killing and looting in western Sudan (search).

The 53-nation regional bloc has said it can quickly mobilize up to 5,000 troops for the Darfur region, but it needs hundreds of millions of dollars. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said Thursday that only $20 million has been received so far, from Canada.

"I think the international community understands the importance of this effort and the money will be forthcoming, but we have to have a good handle on how much is needed, what capabilities are needed, and what it will take to put this force into the field and to sustain it," Powell said Friday.

The African Union now has about 80 military observers in Darfur protected by just over 300 soldiers, monitoring a rarely observed cease-fire signed in April by the government and rebels.

Powell also said the United States was committed to ensuring the protection of United Nations workers preparing to assist the January elections in Iraq.

The United Nations withdrew the bulk of its Iraq staff after an Aug. 19 truck bomb killed 22 people last year, including top U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, and injured more than 150 others.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan has since asked for nations to offer troops to protect U.N. staff who would help with the elections for an Iraqi National Assembly, but has received little response.

Powell said the United States was deeply engaged with "the multinational force and with other nations that might provide funding assistance to help the U.N. build up its presence in the country."

The former Soviet republic of Georgia came forward with the first pledge of troops to protect U.N. staff and facilities in Iraq earlier this week.

Powell, who is holding talks on the sidelines the annual U.N. General Assembly ministerial session, said he has spoken with Annan about his security concerns.

"We are going to help him with the protection issue," Powell said.

But he stressed: "The elections are really going to be run by the Iraqis with the assistance, empowerment and technical advice from the U.N."

Powell, asked how elections could take place amid an upsurge of violence in Iraq, said that 15 of the 18 Iraqi provinces were stable and presented no difficulties.

"We are fully aware that we have to take political, military, security and police action to bring these three additional provinces firmly under government control and to create conditions where people will be free to register and able to vote when the time comes," he said.

Powell spoke to the press after a meeting with G8, Arab and North Africa foreign ministers on an initiative by the G8 industrialized nations for democratic and economic reforms in the region.