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Sudan must improve situation in Darfur to upgrade relations with USA

Sudan must improve the humanitarian situation in Darfur, stop harassing aid workers and let U.N. peacekeepers deploy if it wants to upgrade relations with the United States, the No. 2 U.S. diplomat told reporters on Monday.

Though there is a slight improvement of the overall situation in Darfur, the number of refugees in Sudan's wartorn western region has continued to increase and the government is still hindering international efforts to help them, Negroponte said.

"When it comes to humanitarian access, the government of Sudan's record is not encouraging," he said Monday. Negroponte is on a four-day regional tour geared at persuading Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to accept U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur, and is next due in Libya.

"The denial of visas, the harassment of aid workers and other measures have created the impression that the government of Sudan is engaged in a deliberate campaign of intimidation," he said.

Negroponte's address came as the Saudi news agency reported that al-Bashir had called the king of Saudi Arabia to announce he has signed a joint agreement with the United Nations and the African Union that defines their respective roles in Darfur.

The U.N. did not immediately confirm the report, and Negroponte avoided to comment on it during his press conference Monday in Khartoum.

The United States is holding off on imposing sanctions against Sudan to allow time for negotiations with al-Bashir's government on approving a U.N. force to join the overwhelmed 7,000 African Union troops currently protecting Darfur civilians.

Under a U.N.-backed agreement last fall, a hybrid force of 22,000 U.N. and African Union peacekeepers was to be deployed in Darfur to protect and provide relief for 2.5 million forced from their homes and confined to camps.

But al-Bashir has since rejected the deployment of U.N. troops, saying they would violate Sudan's sovereignty. Many believe he fears the U.N. force would arrest Sudanese officials suspected of war crimes in Darfur. Sudan has said it will accept a small number of U.N. security forces as well as equipment to help the AU troops.

"The humanitarian situation in Darfur calls urgently for dispatching such a force," Negroponte said earlier during his stay in Sudan.

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