Background Briefing En Route to Washington, D.C.
MODERATOR: We have this evening a Senior State Department Official to discuss the Secretary’s meetings today with Prime Minister Meles and the meetings with representatives from North and South Sudan.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Secretary came at a time when there were very high-level negotiations going on in Addis Ababa between North and South Sudan organized by –
MODERATOR: Hold on a sec; they can’t hear.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- organized by the Africa Union High-Level Panel. That’s the panel in charge of negotiations headed by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, but also hosted by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. And the reason for this summit was because, as I think you all know, recently the –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: As you know, recently the Government of Sudan’s armed forces took over the contested region of Abyei and drove out not only the forces of South Sudan, but also the Ngok Dinka clan, and we have now close to 100,000 displaced from Abyei. That caused a crisis in itself, but very shortly afterwards, the government was sending forces down into the state of South Kordofan. South Kordofan had just had an election in which the governor was reelected, but the other candidate who represents the SPLA – SPLM North – and I’ll get back to that in a minute – did not recognize the results of the election.
So there was already a great deal of tension there, and the government troops said that they were there to disarm the SPLA troops who were in South Kordofan. You have to know that the troops in South Kordofan and Blue Nile are SPLA troops, but they’re not Southerners. They are indigenous to the Nuba Mountain area of South Kodofan and Blue Nile, but they fought with the SPLA in the civil war. But they’re Northerners.
Well, the idea that they might be forcibly disarmed has set off what has become a very, very serious armed conflict going on in South Kordofan state. Bombing has occurred, a lot of displacement – we now think up to 40,000 displaced – a shortage of food and water in many places, quite a bit of fighting from both sides.
Now, this summit was an attempt to bring this whole – both these situations back under control. On the Abyei side, the discussion was to get the Government of Sudan to withdraw from Abyei. To do that, one had to enhance the UN force that had been in Abyei. It was not effective up till now in keeping each side from introducing forces that were not by agreement to be there.
To enhance that, Ethiopia offered to provide troops, two or three battalions, but only on the condition that both President Bashir and Vice President – but President of the South – Salva Kiir – both requested it. He wasn’t going to go into that hot spot unless both sides wanted him to do so. And that has off a very complicated negotiation because the Government of Sudan in Khartoum says, well, I want to know what they’re going to do because I don’t like the way the UN has performed in the past. So that’s an awful long discussion.
In the meetings that were taking place when the Secretary arrived, they had not reached agreement. They were disagreeing over two things: the exact mandate under which the Ethiopian troops would operate, but also the Government of Sudan would say we also want to know what kind of administration of Abyei will take place when we withdraw because we didn’t like the last administration, we thought it was biased, and we want a new one that’s 50/50 between the Ngok Dinka and the Miseriya.
The SPLM said no, no, that’s not the way it works. Ngok Dinka – this is the land of the Ngok Dinka, the Miseriya are largely nomadic groups, we don’t see it 50/50. And that’s where the talks are deadlocked right now. Although President Bashir went back today to Khartoum, the two sides continue tomorrow to talk.
Now, in South Kordofan, fighting still goes on, and it’s very serious situation. The Secretary, arriving on her trip to Addis, met with Prime Minister Meles and had a briefing from him on the talks and the issues thereby. She then met with both – each side individually. She met with a special presidential advisor Nafie Ali Nafie accompanied by Sayed – and I can’t think of his last name, I apologize, but he’s an important figure in their North-South negotiations – and urged them very strongly to reach agreement on the security arrangements that would permit a withdrawal and said the U.S. would support the right kind of an agreement and urged them not get hung up, basically, on the administration issue, to get that resolved. And I think it was an important meeting.
Now, these were short meetings because, as you all know, we are running away from an ash cloud. So they weren’t as long as they had originally been scheduled, so we didn’t into a lot of bilateral issues and other things like that.
She then met with Salva Kiir, who, as you know, is the first vice president of the Government of National Unity but also the Government of South Sudan. And he was accompanied by his foreign minister, Deng Alor – he’s actually called minister of regional cooperation – and a lot of other people. And she again made this strong pitch to reach agreement on security arrangements for Abyei and a very strong (inaudible) pitch on cessation of hostilities in South Kordofan. And they voiced their opinion.
Basically, the two sides – I mean it’s a wonderful (inaudible) kind of situation. If you listen to one side, the other side violated all the protocols and they had instigated the violence. And then you listen to the other side, and it’s no, the other guys violated all the protocols and instigated the violence. And what it goes to is that these are two entities that really don’t trust each other. Each one thinks the other is conspiring against him. And because of that, on any issue of which is vital to them, whether it’s Abyei, which is emotionally important to both sides, or South Kordofan, which is a very complex situation, it’s easy when you’re thinking the other guy is always plotting against you to move either militarily or some other way.
So this negotiation really is very important; it isn’t over yet. To try and get the sides to sit down and say, okay, let’s pull back from these kind of military confrontations and get back to negotiating, we’re less than a month away from the South’s independence. The Secretary, I think, came at a very important time to indicate how important this was to the United States, how much we would lend support to any agreement they reach, and that we supported the CPA, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and the idea of it of coming out with two viable states at the end of it.
QUESTION: Do you want to say a word about what’s to be gained if we can get peace and what’s to be lost if we can’t?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I mean, for the two sides, these are two sides that don’t like each other, don’t trust each other, but have to live together. You know what people say: You can’t choose your neighbors. And they are so intertwined economically that they can hurt each other and hurt themselves very badly, whether it’s in oil or new currencies or trade on the border or whatever issues they have.
And so they risked by this outbreak of violence a peaceful separation of the South, one in which they’ve come to an agreement on oil wealth transfers, on border monitoring, on Abyei and other things. So they get off to a good start on cooperation. It is – it cast a pall over the negotiation of all these other issues.
For the North, for Sudan, as it will be after July 9th, they were on a path with the CPA and hopefully peace in Darfur to get back into good graces of the international community. They’re carrying a $38 billion debt, they’re going to lose 60 to 70 percent of their revenue from oil, they have major economic adjustments to make, so getting into debt relief, access to the World Bank, all those things, are there if they move through the CPA and things get better in Darfur. If you get into a military situation, if they violate UN Security Council resolutions for them to withdraw, let’s say, from Abyei, if they look like it’s more confrontational than negotiations, those processes can’t go on. It’s not just the United States; the Europeans have the same policies.
So the consequences for the North are very grave if they’re thinking two, three years ahead. If they’re thinking tomorrow, how do I get one up on the other side, that’s a different story. But if you look at it --
QUESTION: Is there any danger of the independence being delayed or anything?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the South’s going to be independent on July 9th and the South takes the position we’re not going to respond – the South Kordofan, it’s a little different – we’re not going to respond to the takeover of Abyei, we’re not going to be lured into major military confrontation, because we want our independence on July 9th and we’re not going to let anything interfere with it. And I think that’s a foregone conclusion.
QUESTION: Did the North do this in a way as a bargaining chip, and is it the way theynegotiate? I mean, they used a pretext to get in there and try ahead of July 9th deadline to cut themselves a better deal.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s one theory. The other is – and there’s some truth to it as well – that after July 9th a lot of people in the government in Khartoum and elsewhere said, hey, we didn’t get anything for this, we thought the world would be at our doorstep. The Americans promised us things, but they all come after July. And we’re not getting anything and the South is not treating us well and they’re making a hard time in negotiations. And it built up what I called a sourness in the mood starting in March and April, and it made the military feel that they too were getting – they had to sit and watch the SPLA put people into Abyei and there were clashes. And so I think it also built up a sense of this frustration – we got to hit back because we’re not getting much out of this. So yes, some people think it’s a kind of a premeditated negotiating strategy, but I think it was also in the context – not necessarily justified – of hey, why did we do this, a buyer’s remorse. We did this and gave up a third of our country and most of our oil and we don’t have anything in return.
QUESTION: The question of, like, sanctions and state terrorism, did that come up?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: (Inaudible) always comes out, but it didn’t come up in these meetings –
QUESTION: I mean, like why – why (inaudible) now and when will this happen?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Because they know what the roadmap is, but when they look at it closely, they say, hey, wait a minute, all the benefits are after July, debt relief takes two years, who knows if the Americans will change the goal posts. We keep raising Darfur. They say, oh, we didn’t think Darfur was part of it. But you have to read the roadmap. Darfur is part of it.
QUESTION: So it’s fair to say that her personal reassurance was important.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It was – she’s made the point we’re serious about the roadmap and it’s there and if you adhere to it, those things are there. They don’t come overnight, but we’re serious about it. We mean it, it’s not a game, and I think in the – it registered.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think so.
QUESTION: I mean, you’ve been at this for a while. And given the fact they’re still at the state where they have this essential lack of mutual trust, what do you think that tells us about how the two entities are going to exist even after independence?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think these are two entities that don’t necessarily like each other but have to learn to live with each other. I often tell them that you don’t have to kiss each other on the cheek, but you do have to shake hands, because they have so much that they need each other for. I’m sorry I don’t have the figure in my head, but there’s a very large percentage of the population between North and South that live on the border, and all that trade back and forth and migrations, et cetera, they can’t move away from that – and the oil.
QUESTION: Is there anything – any contact with Bashir himself? Have U.S. officials had any contact with Bashir (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We didn’t. No, we had no contact with him, and he was leaving anyway when we arrived.
QUESTION: Thank you.