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Meanwhile, the State Department is trying to broker a political agreement between the two sides and prevent South Sudan from dissolving into the kind of ongoing civil war that gripped Sudan — from which South Sudan was formed — for years.

U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Donald Booth spoke with Mr. Kiir and said the South Sudanese leader is prepared to sit down with his foes in an effort to stop the bloodshed.

“President Kiir committed to me that he was ready to begin talks with Riek Machar to end the crisis, without preconditions, as soon as his counterpart was willing,” Mr. Booth said. “The United States emphasizes the urgency of the situation and stands ready to support these efforts as necessary.”

U.N. officials also have expressed support for a diplomatic solution to the crisis rather than a military one.