- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

ATLANTA — Nearly 15 years after first trying to negotiate peace in Sudan, former President Jimmy Carter says he at last can envision an end to what “has been the most long-lasting and devastating war in the world.”

Mr. Carter said a key reason is a change in policy after the most contested election in U.S. history put a Republican in the White House.

“When President Bush was elected, I was obviously disappointed as a Democrat, but I was very hopeful that he might have a different policy,” Mr. Carter said in an interview. “The turning point came when President Bush decided to adopt this as one of his purposeful projects.”

Diplomats and analysts are optimistic about peace in Sudan by the end of the year for reasons as disparate as:

[Bullet]The aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

[Bullet]The exploitation of oil in Sudan.

[Bullet]A realization among Islamist militants who rule Africas largest country that their policies were bankrupting the country and killing hundreds of thousands of people without producing many tangible results.

Former Sen. John Danforth, a Missouri Republican appointed by Mr. Bush as his envoy to Sudan, said Tuesday that, after a peace deal, he expects the United States to lift economic sanctions and remove Sudan from its list of countries that sponsor terrorism. He said the measures probably would hinge on the Sudanese governments human-rights progress and cooperation in the campaign against terrorism.

“I believe that there is going to be a peace agreement,” Mr. Danforth said. “There is a recognition by both sides that neither side can win, that there is no military solution to their problem.”

Abdullahi An-Naim, a native of Sudan and law professor at Emory University in Atlanta who directs a project on Islam and human rights, backed Mr. Carters assertion that the change in White House policy helped create a climate for peace. He also cited Sudans desire to earn money from oil, which it began pumping just a few years ago.

“It sharpens the contrast between the cost of the war and the prospects for peace,” said Mr. An-Naim.

Mr. Carter said he has spoken recently with the Sudanese foreign minister, the rebels and representatives of the U.S. government.

“Im optimistic now, because theres no doubt that the Sudanese government genuinely wants a peace agreement,” he said. “Theres no doubt that people in the south - who have been suffering now for going on 20 years - deeply want to go back to their villages and live a normal life.”

Donald Petterson, the U.S. ambassador to Sudan from 1992 to 1995, said the current round of peace talks in Kenya holds the most promise of any initiative in the last 20 years. “Theyre closer now than they ever have been,” he said.

War in Sudan has continued with only brief respite since 1955. It pits a government of Arab Muslims in northern Sudan against black Africans in the south who practice Christianity or animist religions. The conflict also has involved fighting among tribes and other ethnic groups in which Muslims fought Muslims and Christians fought Christians.

“For many Americans, its easiest to understand the war as the Muslim north versus the Christian south, although that is something of a simplification,” said Jennifer Cooke, deputy director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Mr. Carters request

By the time Mr. Bush became president, Mr. Carter had been involved intimately in Sudan for a dozen years.

He has met with leaders on both sides of the conflict and even hosted rebel leader John Garang at his Sunday school class in Plains, Ga.

Mr. Carter traveled to Washington for Mr. Bushs inauguration in 2001 and spoke with the new president on the reviewing stand. “I said, ‘Mr. President, theres only one thing I want you to do for me, and that is to initiate peace talks in Sudan,” Mr. Carter said.

A month later, Mr. Carter returned to Washington and met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. He urged them “to use the full leverage of the United States” to encourage negotiations, even though Sudan seemed an unlikely place for the new president to invest diplomatic energy.

“Ordinarily, you would have expected Bush to let it be. It was the kind of intractable humanitarian mess he would steer clear of,” Ms. Cooke said.

But conservative Christian groups, who strongly supported Mr. Bush, were keenly interested in Sudan. Among those urging the new administration to help persecuted Christians in southern Sudan were Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham and president of Samaritans Purse, a faith-based relief organization in Boone, N.C.; Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee; and leaders in the Episcopal Church.

Five days before the September 11 attacks, Mr. Bush appointed Mr. Danforth as his special envoy to Sudan.

After the attacks, the regime in Sudan was eager to distance itself from Islamist extremism to avoid becoming a U.S. military target, Mr. Danforth said. The government stepped up efforts to cooperate with Washington and yielded to pressure to negotiate with southern rebels.

Mr. Carter said the appointment of a special envoy to mediate in Sudan was long overdue.

Threat from Washington

In 1993, when Bill Clinton took office as U.S. president, a government of Islamist radicals had ruled Sudan for four years. The regime provided shelter to many groups and individuals that Washington considered terrorists, including Osama bin Laden.

Ambassador Petterson said Washingtons decision in mid-1993 to list Sudan as a country that sponsored terrorism provoked anti-American demonstrations. He said intelligence information detected plots to attack the U.S. Embassy and harm Americans.

Mr. Petterson said the Clinton administration sent him to meet with Sudans president, Gen. Omar Bashir, and Hassan al-Turabi, an Islamist ideologue seen as the power behind the throne.

The former ambassador said he delivered a threat from Washington to destroy Sudans economy if it carried through on terrorist plots. “They had been expecting something warm and fuzzy,” Mr. Petterson said. “They were furious.”

But as the economy tanked, Sudan began making overtures to the West. It expelled bin Laden and turned over to French authorities the notorious terrorist Ilyich Ramirez Sanchez, known as “Carlos the Jackal.”

“Every time I would go to Sudan, which was pretty often, they would tell me that any member of the CIA or any members of the U.S. Congress - any representative of the U.S. government - could come to Sudan and be given unimpeded access” to information on terrorist organizations, Mr. Carter said.

Washington, however, spurned Sudans overtures amid questions about their legitimacy.

“When President Clinton came into office, he had, I think, a very misplaced policy of trying to overthrow the government in Khartoum,” Mr. Carter said. “So every time we tried to have a balanced mediation between the north and the south, the U.S. government would intercede and subvert the effort.”

Health opportunity

In 1995, Mr. Carter arranged a six-month cease-fire so health workers could battle a debilitating illness known as Guinea-worm disease. He also negotiated an end to a dangerous border dispute between Sudan and Uganda in 1999.

“His word does count,” Mr. Petterson said.

A peace deal would allow Mr. Carter to pursue his goal of eradicating Guinea-worm disease, an affliction in which worms inside a human body break through skin in painful blisters. Since the Carter Center started fighting the disease in 1986, the number of cases worldwide has dwindled from 3.2 million to 50,000. About 75 percent of all remaining cases are in war-torn southern Sudan.

Peace also could clear the way for efforts to battle diseases such as river blindness, trachoma, polio and AIDS.

“It will open up a tremendous opportunity to alleviate the suffering of people in southern Sudan,” Mr. Carter said.

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