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(photo credit: AP)
Praising the US Holocaust Memorial Museum for its work to stop the genocide in Darfur, President George W. Bush declared during a speech there Wednesday that the US would intensify sanctions and other measures against Sudan if the country's leadership failed to take appropriate action.
"This museum cannot stop the violence. But through your good work, you're making it impossible for the world to turn a blind eye," said Bush, who toured the museum and saw a photo exhibit on Darfur before delivering his address. "No one who sees these pictures can doubt that genocide is the only word for what is happening in Darfur - and that we have a moral obligation to stop it."
Speaking in honor of the Holocaust, Bush first recalled the sacrifice of survivor Liviu Librescu, a Virginia Tech professor who sacrificed his life in the campus shooting Monday - Holocaust Memorial Day - so his students could flee the gunman.
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Holocaust survivors were in attendance at Wednesday's speech, including Nobel prize winner Elie Wiesel, who got a special greeting from the president.
Bush told the survivors that they knew why "the Holocaust must be taught to every generation," pointing to the recent desecration of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in Europe, terrorists' calls to wipe Israel off the map and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust - Bush's only reference to the Islamic Republic.
"You who have survived evil know that the only way to defeat it is to look it in the face, and not back down," he said to them. "It is evil we are now seeing in Sudan - and we're not going to back down."
In that vein, Bush announced a series of measures designed to pressure Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir to implement brokered agreements aimed at stopping the violence in his country. Those measures include increased unilateral sanctions to cut Sudan off from the US economy, possibly creating a no-fly zone for Sudan's military over Darfur and drafting a new UN Security Council resolution sanctioning Darfur.
Bush said he had decided to allow UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon "more time" at diplomacy, but warned that if Bashir didn't act, tougher steps would be taken.
Many Jewish groups have made ending the genocide in Sudan a priority, and the Jewish Community Relations Council called earlier this year for divestment from the country, which is among the US State Department's list of state sponsors of terror.
Before Bush's speech, dozens of people held a vigil across from the museum, holding signs that called for increased American efforts to stop the Darfur genocide.
Alex Meixner, the US Policy Coordinator for the Save Darfur organization, stopped by the vigil before listening to Bush's speech.
"The fact there was a speech [on Darfur] was important. What he said was fairly strong. But the real question is whether he follows this up and what the timeline is," Meixner said. "The people of Darfur don't have that long. These measures need to be implemented immediately."
Jess Hordes, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Washington office, who was also at the event, noted that the mission of the museum was to apply the lessons of the past to the future.
"The fact that [Bush] spoke about the Holocaust and then linked it to a contemporary issue of genocide struck the right note in terms of recognizing that we need to learn and internalize the message of the past to deal with the present," Hordes said.