updated 10/19/2009 12:21:55 PM ET 2009-10-19T16:21:55

President Barack Obama said Monday that the U.S. will shift its policy toward Sudan to one based on working with the Khartoum government instead of isolating it.

Still, the president said he will renew tough sanctions against the Sudanese government later this week.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced details of the new approach at a news conference Monday, joined by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and Scott Gration, the administration's envoy to Sudan.

In a statement Monday, Obama said the U.S. and international community must act "with a sense of urgency and purpose" to seek an end to conflict, human rights abuses and genocide in Sudan's Darfur region. He said an agreement between the North and South in Sudan must be implemented for there to be any chance for long-term peace.

"These two goals must both be pursued simultaneously with urgency," Obama said.

Increase in military activities
The urgency was underscored Monday by peacekeepers in Darfur who cited a sizable and unusual increase in military activities by Sudanese government forces and a Darfur rebel group in northern Darfur.

The United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur expressed grave concern about the buildup "as it may signal the impending start of a new cycle of armed confrontations in the area." Mission spokesman Kemal Saiki said peacekeepers in the area have seen a buildup of military material and personnel as well as digging of trenches by government forces and rebels from the Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid faction.

Rice and Gration have clashed over how far to engage the Sudanese government of President Omar al-Bashir, who is charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity and war crimes for allegedly masterminding deadly attacks throughout Darfur.

Gration has argued in public for a less strict line toward Bashir, who he has told officials is the key to resolving the situation in Darfur as well as in southern Sudan, which in 2005 signed a provisional peace deal with the government in Khartoum, ending Africa's longest-running civil war.

Rice favors taking a harder line approach.

However, the new policy will not make major concessions to al-Bashir, whose government is designated a "state sponsor of terrorism" by the State Department, U.S. officials said last week, speaking on condition of anonymity because Congress had yet to be briefed on the planned policy shift.

Incentives for improved relations
Instead, the new policy is designed to bring Khartoum into the fold by offering incentives for improved relations for improvements in the situation in Darfur as well as in southern Sudan, which will hold a referendum on secession in 2011, they said.

"If the government of Sudan acts to improve the situation on the ground and to advance peace, there will be incentives; if it does not, then there will be increased pressure imposed by the United States and the international community," Obama said. "As the United States and our international partners meet our responsibility to act, the government of Sudan must meet its responsibilities to take concrete steps in a new direction."

The Darfur conflict began in February 2003 when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government in Khartoum, claiming discrimination and neglect.

U.N. officials say the war has claimed at least 300,000 lives from violence, disease and displacement. They say some 2.7 million people were driven from their homes and at its height, in 2003-2005, it was called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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