Crawford, Texas -- President Bush signed legislation yesterday intended to restrict U.S. investment in Sudan, despite his administration's concern that it improperly gives state and local governments a hand in foreign policy.
The House and Senate, ignoring the administration's objections, approved the bill unanimously, and Bush signed it at his home near here while reserving the right to enforce it "in a manner that does not conflict" with the federal government's authority to conduct the nation's dealings with other countries.
At the same time, he pledged that his administration would "continue its efforts to bring about significant improvements in the conditions in Sudan," through sanctions, high-level diplomacy and by supporting peacekeepers in Darfur.
"I share the deep concern of the Congress over the continued violence in Darfur perpetrated by the government of Sudan and rebel groups," Bush said in a written statement.
At the center of the president's concern over the Sudan measure is a provision that allows state and local governments, as well as mutual funds, private pension funds and other private investment groups, to divest from companies doing at least $20 million in business with mining, oil, power and military equipment industries in Sudan.
The Save Darfur Coalition and other Darfur activist groups said the legislation "presents a stark choice - stop enabling genocide in Darfur or lose our business. The people of Darfur cannot afford an empty 'law on the books,' which is why the president must vigorously enforce this critical legislation."
The new law shields the governments and private investment firms from investors' lawsuits if they get rid of shares in the companies, and also prohibits the federal government from giving contracts to the firms.
It was the provisions concerning state and local governments that raised constitutional issues with the president. Bush said that such decisions by state and local governments "could interfere with implementation" of U.S. foreign policy - a role, he noted, that the Constitution assigns to the federal government.
The administration raised these concerns with Republican and Democratic leaders in letters the Justice and State Departments wrote during the fall.
Deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel said Bush signed the bill because "we support the overall goal, and we support efforts to address the problem in Darfur, in Sudan."
The conflict in Darfur, in which non-Arab rebels are fighting the Khartoum government and Arab militias, has killed about 200,000 and forced at least 2 million people from their homes.
James Gerstenzang writes for the Los Angeles Times.