Bush, Oil and The Sudan

In a sternly worded statement in July, President Bush warned Sudan to stop the massacre of civilians in Darfur or face the consequences. Presumably he meant that he would put the full weight of his administration behind the much talked about, but little acted upon U.S. and U.N. proposed sanctions against Sudan. The sanctions would clamp an international embargo on Sudan's oil imports, and ban weapons sales. Sudan uses the millions from its oil sales to bolster its weapons and military build-up. That includes bankrolling the militias that have raped, looted, and pillaged villages and murdered as many as 50,000 people and displaced more than one million people in the past year.

Toothless U.N. resolutions, a showpiece visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell and tough talk by Bush won't cripple the country's military. An oil embargo will. And Bush has refused to take that step.

Oil is crucial to the U.S. energy and political interests in the region. The five major oil companies, China National Petroleum, Lundin Oil of Sweden, Talisman Energy of Canada, Totalfina of France, and Petronas of Malaysia represent countries that are staunch U.S. allies and key trading partners. They pay Sudan an estimated $2 million per day in oil revenues. In the next two years, Sudan's oil take could soar into the billions. There's no shortage of companies that hungrily want a piece of Sudan's oil action. U.S. oil companies, however, aren't among them. An executive order by President Clinton in 1997 barring trade with Sudan on the grounds that it sponsors state terrorism has kept them out.

Gutted Sudan Peace Act

But the political winds are shifting. With much fanfare, Bush signed the Sudan Peace Act in October 2002. The act bars companies that do business with Sudan from stock, and banking transactions in American financial markets. It requires the SEC to publicly disclose the names of companies or banks that violate the act. There are two catches. Bush did not like the disclosure provision. The White House claimed that this would damage U.S. and international capital markets and would undermine the SEC's authority to determine what investors should or should not know about the transactions of domestic and foreign companies. Without the disclosure provision, it's virtually impossible to tell which companies do business with Sudan, and with American banks. Bush publicly demanded that the provision be eliminated. The Senate complied and killed it.

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