The United States said it has received a "very positive" response in the Security Council today after circulating a draft resolution aimed at ameliorating the security and humanitarian crises engulfing the Darfur region of Sudan.
US Ambassador John Danforth, speaking to reporters after the Council held closed consultations on the issue, said he was hopeful that the body could pass a resolution on the issue by next week.
He said the 15 members recognized that Council action was necessary, and stressed the need for the African Union (AU) - which has a force of monitors in place in the war-torn region - to play a vital role.
"The importance of getting an outside presence into Darfur to monitor the situation is something that's impossible to overstate. That provides the most immediate assurance to the people of that region that they will have some protection," Mr. Danforth said.
At least 1.2 million people in Darfur are internally displaced and another 200,000 have fled over the border into neighbouring Chad because of attacks by militias allied to the Sudanese Government, and because of fighting between Government forces and two rebel groups.
UN human rights reports have found that the militias, mainly known as Janjaweed, have carried out murders, rapes and assaults against thousands of civilians, and also destroyed or damaged villagers' homes and cropland.
Asked whether the draft resolution's threat of sanctions against Khartoum was a stumbling block, Washington's most senior representative at the UN said the provision was essential.
"The Government of Sudan is not going to respond if there is no pressure. And nobody wants to impose sanctions just for the pleasure of imposing sanctions - that's ridiculous.
"But the Government of Sudan must act in an appropriate way to save the lives of these people. If they don't, and if they stiff the AU or if they just go through sort of a long-delaying dance, there has to be some possibility of taking some action that they will notice."
Earlier today, in testimony before a US legislative committee, Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that the killings in Darfur over the past year constitute genocide. That view has also been stated by both houses of the US Congress.
Asked about Mr. Powell's remarks, and whether it would lead to the invoking of the Genocide Convention, which came into force in 1951, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said: "We will now have to see the next step. The matter is being brought to a competent organ of the United Nations, the Security Council. We'll have to see what action the Council takes."
Mr. Eckhard also said the peace talks taking place in Abuja, Nigeria between representatives of Khartoum and the two Darfur rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), are deadlocked.
The draft security protocol issued by AU mediators was not approved by the parties and the mediators now plan to adjourn the talks and report to the AU Presidency after listening further to the parties.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, has returned to Khartoum after visiting Oslo earlier this week for talks with Norwegian Government officials about international aid to Darfur.
A two-day donors' conference on Sudan will be held in Oslo starting on 27 September.