U.S. “not choosing sides” in Sudan’s “make or break” period

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The current period leading up to the January 9, 2011, referendum on Southern Sudanese independence presents “a make-or-break period for Sudan,” U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration said, and both the Sudanese and the international community must work together so that the vote is held peacefully and on time, and does not lead to armed conflict.

Speaking at the State Department September 15, Gration, who just returned from visits to Juba and Khartoum, said the United States is currently making plans for both potential outcomes of the vote.

“Whether they secede or whether they still stay unified, the South still needs to have better governance, better security, better agriculture, better education, better delivery of public sector services, and so we’re continuing to build those. And if it remains united or if it becomes independent, the international community, the United Nations, all of us have a large role and things that we can do to make sure that Sudan is either successful as a whole or as two countries hopefully at peace with each other,” Gration said.

The Obama administration is “not choosing sides” on whether it wants to see unity or secession. “We’re just trying to put in place a process so that the people themselves can make the decision,” he said.

“The main thing is to make sure that we have a referendum that allows the people to express their will. If we don’t have a referendum or if it’s delayed, then it obviously increases the risk and tensions go up. So that’s why we’re working so very hard to make sure the referendum takes place on time,” Gration said.

President Obama has agreed to participate in high-level meetings on Sudan at the United Nations September 24, and Gration said many other heads of state and senior leaders will also be attending.

“What this will do is it will elevate Sudan on the world stage and make the international community pay a little bit more attention to what is happening,” he said, adding that Southern Sudan and the Darfur region will be in need of international assistance to help develop their infrastructures.

Gration said that following the U.N. General Assembly, the United States would like to see a renewed international commitment to Sudan, either helping to see that an independent South is “birthed in a way that avoids war and builds a new country,” or assisting the people of a unified country to “work together in a way that makes one strong country that provides security and stability” to all of Africa.

He said that in Khartoum he had outlined both U.S. expectations and potential incentives to the Sudanese government in return for its full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), as well as a pathway that could lead to the normalization of relations between the United States and Sudan.

“I [also] made it clear that there was also a wide range of consequences that could be deployed if the situation in Sudan deteriorated or if they failed to make progress,” he said.

According to a September 14 fact sheet released by the State Department, the Obama administration is offering “an immediate shift in the use of our licensing regulations with respect to the agricultural sector to enhance local food production” in Sudan.

If the January 9, 2011, referendum is held on time and is credible, and its outcome is respected, the United States will take steps to allow additional trade and investment in certain prescribed non-oil sectors in Sudan. Agreement on the key principles for post-referenda arrangements will lead to U.S. support for an exchange of ambassadors between Washington and Khartoum, and the fulfillment of the CPA and the resolution of the Darfur conflict will cause the Obama administration to work with the U.S. Congress to remove foreign assistance restrictions, lift economic sanctions and actively support international assistance and debt relief, according to the fact sheet.

Full normalization of relations “will require a comprehensive peace agreement in Darfur that is credibly implemented, a sustained improvement in security, humanitarian access, and services that improve living conditions on the ground, full cooperation with [the U.N.–African Union Mission in Darfur], a cessation of all support for international terrorism, and efforts to achieve accountability, justice and reconciliation,” the fact sheet says.

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