- The Washington Times - Friday, October 22, 2010

Leaders of north and south Sudan must be willing to compromise when they meet in Ethiopia next week to discuss a way past obstacles to holding a referendum in January that is likely to result in the secession of southern Sudan, U.S. officials said on Friday.

President Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, Scott Gration, told reporters the talks in Addis Ababa may be one of the last chances to try and meet a Jan. 9 deadline to hold the referendum.

“There is just no more time to waste,” Mr. Gration said.

Officials and analysts are worried a delay in holding the referenda on Jan. 9 — one to decide whether the southerners want to secede and the other to determine whether the oil-rich region of Abyei wants to go with the south if it does break away — could cause Sudan to slip back into the civil war that engulfed it for more than two decades.

The south is widely expected to secede.

The referenda are part of the conditions spelled out in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

“With time running out, the parties must make a strategic commitment to work together to avoid war, to achieve a lasting peace,” Mr. Gration said, adding, “The parties must be prepared come to Addis with an attitude of compromise to reach a final agreement on these remaining tough issues. The entire world is watching and will make judgments based on how the parties approach these talks.”

Mr. Gration said the Obama administration is deeply committed to using all available tools to support the parties as they move toward the implementation of the CPA.

He urged both Sudanese President Omar Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) in the north and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the south to demonstrate good faith.

Mr. Gration said the Obama administration would be watching the Sudanese government to ensure that they transfer necessary funds to the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, grant visas to international monitors and aid workers, and protect southerners living in the north.

Key issues, including the demarcation of borders, citizenship and division of oil revenues, remain to be agreed upon.

The Sudanese government also needs to register voters, employ poll workers and put domestic and international monitors in place.

The Abyei referendum has been a big challenge for both parties, which have been unable to agree on who should be able to vote in the process.

Mr. Gration said the Obama administration is committed to an “on-time referenda” in Abyei and southern Sudan. “It is really up to the parties to take the decisions and take the actions to make this a reality,” he said, adding that the parties will have to make some “tough decisions” on Abyei.

The Obama administration has invested a lot of energy in ensuring the CPA is implemented according to schedule.

Mr. Obama has been receiving daily briefings on developments in Sudan from Denis McDonough, who was appointed deputy national security adviser on Friday.

Samantha Power, senior director for multilateral affairs at the National Security Council, said the administration is making a “full court press” to ensure the referenda are held on time.

“It is impossible to overstate the degree of high level attention being given to Sudan at the White House,” Ms. Power said,

Mr. Gration said Mr. Obama is serious about moving toward better relations with Sudan.

He said the U.S. was prepared to take certain steps in response to concrete achievements on the ground. These include: shifting licensing regulations to allow more trade and investment, supporting debt relief, exchanging ambassadors and ultimately removing foreign assistance restrictions and lifting economic sanctions.

But for any of this to happen there must first be progress in implementing the CPA and finding a comprehensive peace agreement in Darfur, Mr. Gration said.

“The president is equally committed to ending conflict in Darfur as he is to full implementation of the CPA,” he said, adding, “There can be no peace in Sudan without peace in Darfur.”

The U.S. has also intensified its diplomatic efforts in Sudan.

A second phase of diplomatic expansion will triple the U.S. diplomatic presence in southern Sudan.

“The stakes for the Sudanese people are extraordinarily high,” said Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

Meanwhile, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, traveled to Sudan this week as part of an effort to assess security, political, and economic developments in advance of the referendum.

“Sudan is at a pivotal moment,” Mr. Kerry said.

“The critical choice that leaders in both north and south face is between a future of peaceful coexistence or a return to chaos and war in a place tragically familiar with both. January is rapidly approaching; the Sudanese in the north and the south must seize this moment and address the difficult issues that could seriously disrupt the fulfillment of the landmark Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which included provision for the referendum, and lead to unnecessary violence,” he added.

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