- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2010

It was Africa’s longest war, a horrific conflict between north and south Sudan that spanned some five decades and claimed millions of lives until a 2005 agreement brokered by the United States brought a semblance of peace.

Now, as southern Sudanese prepare to vote in January on whether they will secede from the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum and create a new country, U.S. diplomats say they are surging to avert a return to war.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States must figure out how to convince political leaders in Khartoum that it’s “worth their while to peacefully accept an independent south, and for the south to recognize that unless they want more years of warfare and no chance to build their own new state, they’ve got to make some accommodations with the north as well.”

Sudan has bedeviled recent presidents. As the north-south war raged in the mid-1990s, the country played host to Osama bin Laden. After a government shake-up in Khartoum and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Sudan’s intelligence relationship with the U.S. warmed considerably. Yet even as the north and south laid down their arms, a separate war in the western region of Darfur threatened to undermine international good will.

The problem now rests with President Obama. Sudan is strategically located between Africa’s Horn and Sahel, regions of increased activity by militant radicals, and policy analysts fear a renewed war would destabilize the region and flood it with new weapons and bad actors.

A referendum on the status of the largely Christian and animist southern Sudan is scheduled for January. That vote is the most contentious element of the 2005 peace deal, which included arrangements for sharing power and oil wealth.

It’s likely southerners will vote to secede from Sudan, taking with them about 80 percent of the country’s oil revenue. But with little governance and poor infrastructure, many observers fear, the south could be at risk of becoming a failed state from Day One without significant international assistance.

Just how to deal with Sudan has flustered Mr. Obama’s inner circle of foreign policy advisers, at times spilling the deep divisions into the open.

Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, favors a hard line with Sudan’s president, Lt. Gen. Omar Bashir. Gen. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for his government’s role in the war in Darfur.

On the other side of the Obama administration’s internal debate is Scott Gration, a retired Air Force general who is Mr. Obama’s special envoy to Sudan. Mr. Gration has recommended in congressional testimony that the United States remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and suggested that constructive engagement with Sudan would better advance U.S. goals.

Mrs. Clinton said Wednesday that one area that could be a point of compromise will be the oil revenues.

“What happens to the oil revenues?” she said. “And if you’re in the north and all of a sudden you think a line’s going to be drawn and you’re going to lose 80 percent of the oil revenues, you’re not a very enthusiastic participant. What are the deals that can possibly be made that will limit the potential of violence?”

Last month, the State Department announced that it would send Princeton Lyman, a veteran diplomat in Africa, to Juba, the likely new capital of a southern Sudanese state.

While the United States has pledged to work closely with both the north and the south to avoid a new civil war, the Obama administration has yet to disclose what diplomatic sticks and carrots it will use to entice the government in Khartoum to accept secession of the south.

Mrs. Clinton hinted, however, that there is a lot of work ahead to get Khartoum to accept the likely results of the partition.

“Even if we did everything perfectly and everyone else — the Norwegians, the Brits, everybody who is weighing in on this — did all that they could, the reality is that this is going to be a very hard decision for the north to accept,” she said.

John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project in Washington and one who favors a hard-line approach to Sudan’s government, said he was concerned that African policy analysts like himself were not being told by the administration what the diplomats sent to Khartoum were offering Gen. Bashir.

“I think this is a mixed bag,” he said. “On the one hand, it’s late but not too late for the administration to really deepen its engagement in the peace process and conflict prevention in the south. The United States has to be in the middle of this if there is any chance of stopping a war.”

Mr. Pendergast added, however: “The point of concern is, we don’t have enough transparency in the policy to know what they are packaging. If the U.S. goes only with incentives, then they are walking into a negotiation with one armed tied behind their back.”

Eric Reeves, an activist who has been one of the toughest critics of the Khartoum government, said Mrs. Clinton’s remarks represented a “disastrous capitulation.”

“The remarks reflect Gration’s general policy outlook, and it reflects a disastrous capitulation in the face of a regime that is going to take all it can get without U.S. offering further inducements,” he said.

Also on Wednesday, Mrs. Clinton called Sudanese First Vice President Salva Kiir and Second Vice President Ali Osman Taha to “encourage them to continue everything they can do in the coming weeks and months to promote full implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and make preparations for the referendum in early January,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

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