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Progress is cited in Sudan peace bid

Leader urged to let in UN peace force

KHARTOUM, Sudan -- Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico pressed Sudan's president yesterday to open the war-torn Darfur region to UN troops, part of a global push for an elusive peace in the African nation.

Richardson, a potential 2008 presidential candidate, met privately with President Omar al-Bashir for nearly an hour at his mint green residence and later said progress had been made. He provided no specifics, but the two plan to meet again tomorrow and will issue a joint statement.

"The meeting was good. We made some progress," Richardson told reporters, choosing to keep details private as negotiations continued.

The trip highlights the Democratic governor's probable White House bid and could be a boost for his candidacy, drawing attention to his extensive foreign policy background, including his tenure as ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration.

Bolstering Richardson's diplomacy is the newfound Democratic power in Washington, with his party in control of Congress. His voice adds to similar pleas from the Bush administration.

At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said Richardson's visit underscores that Bashir's government is "getting the message from multiple directions about what they need to do."

McCormack rejected any suggestion that the administration resents the private diplomatic efforts of a potential Democratic presidential candidate.

"I wouldn't call it freelancing," he said.

McCormack said the administration's new special envoy for Sudan, Andrew Natsios, had met with Richardson before his trip. Natsios has experienced a number of frustrations in his initial dealings with the Bashir government and is now seeking Chinese help to apply economic pressure on its Sudanese trading partner.

Back at his hotel, Richardson told a reporter traveling with him that he and Bashir discussed the UN peacekeeping force, a cease-fire, protection for humanitarian groups working in the region, increasing sexual violence against refugees, and a potential conference with rebel leaders.

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