During the Arab League summit in Riyadh two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and Secretary General Ban Ki moon held extensive talks about the crisis in Darfur with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. At the time, the meeting was significant principally for the fact that it was one of the first times that a regional power like Saudi Arabia took interest in Darfur. Now, if news accounts prove accurate, it would seem that this meeting could have actually yielded an important breakthrough.

The official Saudi news agency reported last night that Bashir contacted King Abdullah to say that he has signed a joint agreement with the United Nations and African Union to delineate the respective roles of Sudan and the international organizations to resolve the crisis in Darfur. Details about the pledge are still sketchy. But if news reports this morning are accurate, Sudan has agreed to the so-called “phase 2” heavy support package that would let some 3,000 UN troops augment the AU force in Darfur.

To be sure, Bashir has backed away from similar pledges in the past, so his government should be judged by actions, not words. Also, while a hybrid AU-UN force would be an important development for Darfur, it is still an incremental step. The ultimate goal remains deploying the full compliment of 17,000 peacekeepers called for in Security Council Resolution 1706, passed in late August. Still, if today’s apparent agreement helps that mission materialize, it would be a positive step.

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