KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan said on Tuesday it had applied for a U.S. visa to let its president travel to the U.N. General Assembly in New York, despite international arrest warrants against him over charges of masterminding war crimes in Darfur.
Washington earlier said it had received the application, calling the request “deplorable” given Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
A senior State Department official said Bashir would “not receive a warm welcome” if he were to travel to the U.N. meeting. The official said Bashir had applied for a visa to attend the opening of the annual U.N. General Assembly.
“I am not going to speak to the specifics of this case, but typically as a host nation the United States is generally obligated to admit foreign nationals, but visas broadly speaking can be restricted,” the official added.
A trip to the United States could be risky for Bashir, who has limited his travel mostly to African neighbours and Arab allies since the court ordered member countries in 2009 and 2010 to detain him if he entered their territories.
The United States is not a member of the Hague-based ICC so would not be legally bound to hand the president over.
But Washington has led calls for Bashir to face international justice over the bloodshed in the now decade-old conflict in the western region of Darfur.
The U.S. has also transferred ICC suspects to the court before. When Bosco Ntaganda handed himself in to the U.S. Embassy in the Rwandan capital Kigali in March, officials put the Congolese warlord on a plane to The Hague within days.
Officials at the international war crimes court could not be reached for comment.
Sudan dismisses the ICC charges, says reports of mass killings in Darfur have been exaggerated, and refuses to recognise the court which it says is part of a Western plot against it.
“The foreign ministry took the necessary measure to obtain a visa for the president of the republic and his delegation,” the Sudanese ministry said in a statement.
It said Bashir planned to meet several African leaders on the sideline of the U.N. session in New York, where debates start next week.
The ministry dismissed criticism of the application from U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.
“The U.S. government is not qualified morally, politically or legally to give any lessons or recommendations respecting international law or human rights,” it said.
The U.S. was obliged to grant a visa under the 1947 U.N. Headquarters Agreement establishing the world body’s base in New York, it added.
Sudan’s visa request comes at a time of rising African hostility to the ICC due to a perception that prosecutors disproportionately target African leaders, a charge the ICC denies.
Mainly non-Arab tribes took up arms in Darfur in 2003 against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, complaining of neglect and discrimination.
The conflict has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced about 2 million, according to human rights groups and U.N. officials. Sudan says the numbers are overblown. The ICC issued arrest warrants against Bashir in 2009 and 2010 to face charges of orchestrating war crimes and genocide.
Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt in The Hague and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by Tom Perry and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Cynthia Osterman