Nairobi — In a rare diplomatic concession, the Obama administration has offered to resume diplomatic relations with Sudan provided Khartoum meets some conditions.
Among the conditions include; the full implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the assurance that the referendum in the south will be held on January 9 as scheduled, the commitment to reach agreement on pending issues of CPA, and a comprehensive resolution for peace in Darfur.
These conditions were given by the US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Mr Johnny Carson at a major press conference on Sudan of Friday, that was also attended by President Obama’s Special Envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration.
Apart from the indictment of President Omar al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC), and the economic sanctions that US maintains against Sudan, Washing ton list Sudan as among the countries sponsoring terrorism.
A normalisation of relations would have to take into account all these, even though the Obama administration—through Mr Gration — has been deploying the policy of constructive engagement with Khartoum rather than wielding a big stick.
This approach has elicited numerous criticism from the Western civil society, who believe that Sudan should be treated as a pariah state.
The question is whether the US having failed over the years in Somalia will get it right this time in Sudan to help avert a relapse into war after the 2011 referendum?
Mr Gration was put to task at the conference to explain whether the current US diplomatic engagement is starting too late in the day to ensure a peaceful referendum.
He conceded that the US diplomatic efforts might appear rushed but maintained the US has always remained engaged with Sudan since the signing of the peace agreement in 2005, but which have been intensified with the advent of the Obama administration.
“Intensive consultations have been going on at high level but it is true that time is running out with only 79 days remaining. But is upon the NCP and the SPLM to make tough decisions that would ensure peace,” he said.
One of the major concern in Sudan is the issue of the oil-rich Abyei that is supposed to hold its own referendum the same day to decide whether they belong to the north or south. Khartoum had earlier suggested that the Abyei referendum be delayed but this suggestion has been strongly opposed by the south.
As it is, the Abyei Referendum Commissions is yet to be constituted, while at the same time, there is the dispute whether the Misseriya Arabs–who consider themselves northerners but water their cattle in the south for sic months in a year–are likely to take part in the referendum in the absence of a recognised north-south border.
Mr Carson insisted that the US position is that the referendum is held on time, peaceful and reflects the wishes of the southerners.
To ensure this, Mr Carson revealed that Washington has given high level attention to Sudan, adding that there is a meeting at the White House every week to discuss the developments. President Obama is also briefed on Sudan everyday.
To help galvanise international support for Sudan, President Obama has assembled a high-level team comprimising Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice-president Joe Biden to help in the task. So far, Norway has been helping with technical advise on oil revenue sharing, while the UK has been advising on debt relief and border demarcation.
The main objective of the intensified diplomatic efforts with respect to Sudan is that for the fist time, the US is keen to be pro-active and help prevent an outbreak of war rather than react later.
In the past one month, the US has expanded its diplomatic presence in all the provincial capitals in the south.
Secondly, the US has been in constant tough with the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad)–that brokered the Sudanese peace deal–and other regional countries that have a stake in the referendum such as Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Egypt.
Mr Gration conceded that there is a great concern of what will happen to southerners in the north and northerners in the south, should the southerners vote for separation.
This is particularly so given the series of rhetoric regarding citizenship coming from both Juba and Khartoum.
“Again is tis upon the two parties to reach agreement on this issue. For the US, we are waiting to take them to account on their commitment to protect the rights of all citizens,” said Mr Gration.
The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, has laid down the conditions under which the Obama administation would renew diplomatic ties with Sudan.
On the other hand, Mr Carson argued that the US would like to see an independent south that lives in harmony with the north, because countries in the region have proven that Muslims and Christians can live in harmony, or countries that are predominantly Muslim have co-existed with neighbours that are predominantly Christian.
But the issue of normalisation of relations with Sudan remains a tall order. During the recent UN High Level Meeting on Sudan in New York, the Sudanese delegation carried with them three conditions that would enable Khartoum ensure a democratic and legitimate referendum.
They included; the US to lift economic sanctions against Sudan, the US to remove Sudan from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism and for Washington to help influence the deferment of the ICC warrant of arrest against President al-Bashir.