- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 23, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

KHARTOUM, Sudan

Eight years ago a newly elected American administration sent a special envoy to Sudan. Sen. John Danforth put aside several years of failed United States policy and “advocacy” toward Sudan, and accepted at face value Sudanese proposals to end the civil war in southern Sudan between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Sudanese government.

Several years of American and European-brokered negotiations resulted in the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended Africa’s longest-running conflict, established a coalition government and set a timetable for presidential and parliamentary elections and a landmark referendum on unity or separation for the south.

It was perhaps the Bush administration’s only foreign policy success. Four years later a similar watershed has presented itself. A new administration in Washington can play a similarly pivotal role by brokering peace in Darfur - the focus since 2003 of another conflict - as well as reinforcing and sustaining the unfolding north-south peace process.

At face value, peace in Darfur in 2009 is much closer than the prospect of peace in southern Sudan was in 2001. All the stated reasons for the start of the Darfur conflict - political and economic marginalization - together with security arrangements, have been addressed in the internationally brokered 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA). The DPA, which runs to more than 100 pages, is undoubtedly the basis for peace in Darfur.

It is a matter of record that the DPA drew extensively on the political and wealth-sharing formulas entrenched in the CPA. While the Sudanese government agreed to all of the additional concessions written into the DPA and signed the agreement, only one of the three Darfur rebel movements subsequently signed the document.

The ball in now in the court of the rebel movements and the international community. Both the United States and United Kingdom, for example, clearly stated that the DPA was an excellent document and strongly warned the rebel movements against rejecting it: both promised they would treat any such rejection very firmly indeed. The truth is both Washington and London did not follow through with this commitment, and paradoxically sought to bring more pressure to bear on Khartoum - itself clearly committed to the Darfur peace process.

There will be no peace in Darfur unless the international community, and especially the United States, brings pressure to bear on the rebel movements and those countries militarily and politically supporting them. The American role is pivotal.

The Obama administration could lead the international community in bringing the Darfur rebel movements to the negotiating table, amending the DPA as needed and providing any additional safeguards deemed necessary.

A constructive American engagement with the peace process both in Darfur and southern Sudan will need a new approach. Just as in 2001, when the Bush administration rose above often crude anti-Sudanese imagery, the Obama administration will have to place on hold the siren calls by the many Darfur advocacy groups that have sought to reduce the incredibly complex Darfur crisis to a two-word bumper sticker slogan.

Calls for military intervention in Darfur, whether by way of a “no-fly zone” or NATO forces, would be disastrous. It would not just derail the CPA; it would also risk creating another Iraq in Sudan, the soft underbelly of Egypt; and within the Sahel, the soft underbelly of Europe. The new post-Bush political policy in Washington must take cognizance of the fact that the Iraq debacle was the result of advocacy trumping reality.

Similar Sudan “advocacy” must be treated with considerable caution.

The present campaign within the United States for divestment from the Sudanese economy, even at second and third hand, also endangers peace in Sudan.

Given that the Darfur rebels say they started the war in 2003 in large part to secure more wealth for their region, and that much of the peace negotiations have focused on a wealth-sharing formula, deliberately draining Sudan of investment and resources merely denies Darfurians that for which they have fought. Divestment similarly undermines the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Peace in Darfur, and throughout Sudan, lies in large part in the hands of the Obama administration. It will find a willing partner in the government of national unity in Khartoum.

Dr. Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani is the leader of the National Congress Party caucus in the Sudanese National Assembly, and is a Cabinet-rank presidential adviser.

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