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US reviewing visa for Sudan's Bashir

Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir during an African Union meeting on January 27, 2013 in Addis Ababa
Sudan's president Omar al-Bashir during an African Union meeting on January 27, 2013 in Addis Ababa.

The United States was stuck on the horns of a dilemma Thursday, mulling whether to grant a visa to indicted war crimes suspect Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir amid growing pressure to bar him from a UN summit.

"There are a variety of considerations in play with respect to President Bashir's visa request, including the outstanding warrant for his arrest," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

But she refused to discuss all the considerations publicly, with Bashir sought by the International Criminal Court to face charges of genocide in the war-torn Darfur region.

Bashir's request for a visa to travel to New York for next week's UN General Assembly has embarrassed the US government and the United Nations.

Washington opposes Bashir attending the annual meeting, but it has refused to say whether it can or will block the Sudanese leader.

Under its obligations as the host nation of the United Nations, Washington is generally obliged to grant visas for heads of state wishing to visit the US on UN business.

But the International Criminal Court on Wednesday urged US authorities to arrest Bashir should he land in New York.

The court has asked "the competent US authorities to arrest Omar al-Bashir and surrender him to the court, in the event he enters their territory," the ICC said.

Speaking about Bashir's case, Harf said "we clearly strongly supported the ICC's efforts to hold accountable those responsible for the kind of war crimes he's been accused of."

But she refused to specify whether Washington would grant him the visa or not.

Activists, including Hollywood stars George Clooney, Mia Farrow and Don Cheadle, have meanwhile urged President Barack Obama to "do everything possible" to dissuade Bashir from making the trip.

"Our immigration laws prohibit admitting perpetrators of genocide and extrajudicial killings into our country and it is unprecedented for someone wanted by the International Criminal Court for the crime of genocide to travel to the United States," some 25 activists said in a letter.

"While we recognize that the US government is obliged to facilitate President Bashir's visit under the UN Headquarters Agreement, we urge you to do everything in your power to prevent the trip."

The letter, organized by a coalition of groups including the Enough Project, said the Obama administration could take some steps including filing a criminal case against him, and only offering him minimum protection, which might sway Bashir to change his travel plans.

The US could also urge countries on his flight path to refuse landing rights for refueling, and the US mission at the UN should try to persuade other visiting delegations not to meet with him.

Alternatively, the US delegation could consider organizing a walkout at the General Assembly to protest Bashir's presence as it did in the past with former Iranian President Mahmoud Amadinejad.

"We ask that the administration consider the impact that this trip has on our broader commitment to international justice and accountability," the letter said.

"As Americans concerned by the ongoing atrocities in Sudan, we support your administration's thoughtful response to this unique diplomatic challenge."

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