Chicago Tribune highlights Appointment of IRI Board Member as Envoy to Sudan

Chicago lawyer is envoy to Sudan
Chicago Tribune

Rich Williamson, a Chicago-area lawyer and former U.S. diplomat to the United Nations, was named President Bush’s new envoy to Sudan on Friday, taking over a sensitive job that helps set U.S. policy on the Darfur conflict.

Williamson, 58, has held several diplomatic posts, first in the Reagan administration and then in the second Bush administration. He visited Sudan for the first time in August as a board member of the International Republican Institute.

In 1992, Williamson ran for the U.S. Senate in Illinois but lost to Carol Moseley Braun.

In the Sudan post, he will replace Andrew Natsios, who resigned Friday at a time when questions have been raised about the administration’s policies toward the conflict-torn African nation. Officials said Natsios was frequently frustrated by bureaucratic battles within the U.S. government over the direction of Sudan policy.

The job entails overseeing the administration’s push to end the violence that the U.S. calls genocide in Sudan’s western Darfur region, and working to maintain a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war between north and south Sudan.

Williamson said he would likely travel to the region early next year, and that he was confident he could overcome the problems in Washington.

“I understand the town and how it works, how to overcome some of the bureaucratic difficulties,” he told the Tribune in a telephone interview.

He said he was contacted three weeks ago by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who he said was “persuasive” in talking him into taking the part-time post with a full-time staff. Williamson is a partner at the Winston & Strawn law firm and lives in the Chicago suburbs.

“How many times do you get a shot to make a difference? This time I think I do,” he said, adding that he had “a bunch of theories” on how to seek better cooperation with China on influencing the Sudanese regime.

The White House announced that Natsios would step down after just over a year on the job.

“The United States continues to lead international efforts to deploy a large and effective peacekeeping force to Darfur, and implement the north-south peace agreement, while providing for the humanitarian needs of conflict-affected populations across Sudan,” press secretary Dana Perino said. “The president … is deeply grateful for Ambassador Williamson’s willingness to help work for peace throughout Sudan.”

In a conference call with reporters, Natsios did not dispute there had been debates within the administration over Sudan policy, but said he had told Rice in September that he would have to leave the job by year’s end due to teaching commitments at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

He also warned that the shaky north-south peace agreement could unravel, splintering Sudan into a collection of warring entities.

After news of the resignation became public, Darfur advocates called for the White House to appoint a full-time envoy to deal with a crisis that has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced more than 2.5 million since 2003, when the region’s ethnic African rebels began fighting the Arab-dominated Sudanese government and its militia allies.

John Prendergast, co-chairman of the ENOUGH project, which fights genocide and crimes against humanity, added that Williamson is a “hard-nosed negotiator” who cares deeply about the plight of the Sudanese people and might be more able than Natsios to break through the bureaucracy to make a mark on Sudan policy.

This week, Congress passed legislation that would empower states, localities and private investors in the United States to cut investment ties with Sudan.

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