Ambassador Princeton Lyman, U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, on Recent Developments in Sudan and South Sudan
MR. TONER: Thank you very much, and thanks to everyone for joining us on relatively short notice. We’re very fortunate to have Ambassador Princeton Lyman, who is the U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan joining us from Khartoum, where he is carrying out meetings, and I believe has more meetings yet still to come. But he took some time out of his schedule. He’s here to brief on recent developments in Sudan and South Sudan, and read out his recent trip to Juba as well as his meetings in Khartoum.
So without further hesitation or further pause, I’ll just hand it over to Ambassador Lyman.
AMBASSADOR LYMAN: Mark, thank you very much. Thanks to all of you for being on the line. Let me give a quick kind of overview of what’s going on from our point of view and then want to take your questions.
We are, of course, dealing with a very, very serious crisis between Sudan and South Sudan, one in which armed clashes are taking place, and a major event took place a few days ago with the – South Sudan’s occupation of the Heglig area. First of all, it’s important to note that the reaction and position of the international community was quick and absolutely unified, and it wasn’t by coordination. We all just – all saw the situation the same way – that this was an extremely dangerous step by South Sudan and it threatened a much wider conflict.
Many people have been involved in various things. I’ll talk a little about my activity in relation to others. I was in Juba for several days and met there with President Kiir and the senior leadership on – we had a long series of meetings over several days. In Khartoum, I’ve been having meetings here with both government and party leaders, and will continue to have more meetings before I leave.
A couple of general things: I was quoted in an article saying that there – it’s already war, but that’s not true. Obviously, armed clashes are taking place, and that’s very true and terribly, terribly troublesome. But it’s important to note how governments are being very careful about this, and as you note, a new statement just coming out of Juba making it clear that they are not seeing themselves at war with Sudan and they want to return to peaceful relationship.
Now, what you’re seeing, of course, also is an enormous amount of very emotional, very powerful rhetoric coming out here from Khartoum, raising the stakes in many ways. And that’s worrisome in and of itself. But in the discussions I’ve had with – in both Khartoum and Juba, I can say with confidence that virtually everyone I’ve talked to has said, “Look, we don’t want to go to all-out war with the other; we need to find a way out.” Now they have different approaches to how to get out of this situation, but both sides are looking for that.
Now there’s a lot of diplomatic activity underway, and we are working very closely with a wide variety of international actors. We had the UN Security Council meeting yesterday. I’ve been in close touch with the chairman of the African Union High-Level Panel, President Mbeki. And next week there will be a meeting of the Africa Union Peace and Security Council, to which we and many other countries are also invited. And I see a notice also of an Arab League emergency meeting next week, around which a great deal of diplomatic activity is being organized to help bring the parties back.
Now, that doesn’t mean this is going to be easy. It’s not going to be easy. Emotions are running very, very high. But I think the bottom line here, the basic line, is that both countries are arguing about security, that South Sudan is saying their security has been violated over a long period of time, and they’ve reacted accordingly and they want guarantees that, if they withdraw, that they won’t be subject to the same. The Government of Sudan says: Our security is at stake because of the implications of what’s going on between South Sudan and Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, where conflict is going on inside Sudan, and that our security concerns are at stake. And that’s much of what the border conflict has been about.
So it’s important that we get the parties and our international colleagues together around this fundamental question of security. It’s not just that alone between the two of them, but the ongoing conflicts in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile is a very important part of this. And we believe, and we have said for a long time, that political approaches must be made by the Government of Sudan with the people in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. Otherwise, that conflict will not come to an end regardless of whether they’re getting help from outside.
So that, too, has to be part of the major diplomatic effort. I think I’ll stop there – happy to take questions. Obviously, this effort is going to go on here in Washington, in Addis Ababa, in Khartoum, Juba, and a lot of other places as we all work to bring this situation under control, get the parties back to a peace process.
Thanks very much.
MR. TONER: Thank you very much, Ambassador Lyman. And we’re ready to take your questions now. Just a reminder that this is an on-the-record briefing. So we anticipate your questions.
OPERATOR: To ask a question at this time, please press *, then 1. To withdraw the question, *2. Once again, for any questions, *1 please.
Our first question, from Andrew Quinn with Reuters.
QUESTION: Hi, Ambassador Lyman. It’s Andy Quinn with Reuters. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about what your message was to President Kiir, specifically on the Heglig oil field. What do you think it would take to get them to pull out, since that seems to be the precipitating – or a precipitating – factor in the immediate crisis?
And also, at the UN Security Council, there was mentioned the prospect of sanctions that could apply to both countries. Is that something that the United States would support if this situation is not resolved and the South Sudanese do not pull out? Thanks.
AMBASSADOR LYMAN: Thanks, Andy. The – my message to President Kiir and to all his colleagues was that they should note the unanimous reaction of the international community – the quick, instantaneous, and unanimous reaction – and that they should realize that in the world’s eye, they had taken a dangerous step and one that had to be reversed. And that message was part of my dialogue throughout. I think they were – frankly, had not expected that and are absorbing it.
The second thing was to walk through the different statements being made as to what this was all about. Was it security? Was it taking over land they thought was theirs? Was it bigger ambitions about changing government? And we narrowed it down, and I’m very happy with the statement that just came out of Juba saying, look, this is security. This is a disputed area, in our view, but that’s not the way you handle disputed areas. Our number one concern is security. Now they’re looking for guarantees, and some of what they are asking is probably beyond what is practical, but we have a mechanism that the two sides already had started working on called the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mission. And we’re going to try and work with that and see how we deal with that.
So that was the – very much where we were going in Juba. Here, because there’s a feeling here in Khartoum that, no, we want them out of Heglig before we do anything else, we have to work through that because that’s – we got to find common ground as to how one deals with both security for both sides and withdrawal. And that’s really where we’re going next on all of this.
Oh, on sanctions, yes, what I said to him is when you see the mention of sanctions, when people are thinking about sanctions that tells you how serious the world is concerned about this. Now it’s too early to make any decisions or predictions on that, but just the fact that people are mentioning it, I hope sends a signal to both parties this is very serious business, as it affects international peace and security, and the parties must work with all of us to get it under control.
MR. TONER: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question, from Shaun Tandon with AFP.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thanks, Ambassador, for doing this. Just to follow up a bit, you mentioned the situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Just wanted to see what you saw there in terms of the humanitarian situation. As you know, there have been lots of concerns about food shortages and other humanitarian issues. Do you see progress on a plan to potentially bring some sort of assistance in there?
AMBASSADOR LYMAN: That situation – and I’m glad, Shaun, you raised it because that has been for us for months a major, major preoccupation, because that situation is getting worse and people are in real basic need for both food, medicines, et cetera. There was a proposal to the government to try and properly address their concerns. It was a joint proposal of the UN, the Africa Union, and the Arab League. And in my conversations – my meetings today, I pressed again to the government to approve this, and approve it rapidly, because the rain season is nearly upon us. They have said yes in principle, but they’ve got questions about its implementation. And I have urged them please, let’s move forward right away, we can solve the implementation problems.
I’m also hoping that with the announcement of a humanitarian program, we will also, almost by default, get a cessation of hostilities in that area, and that hopefully creates a better atmosphere for peace. But first and foremost, that we’ve got to deal with the humanitarian problem, and we know people are deeply concerned and working on this in various ways. But I’m really hoping the government will approve this proposal.
MR. TONER: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question is from Andre LeRoux with Media24 Johannesburg, South Africa.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Ambassador. Could you please describe the military posture of both sides currently? And has the North -- has Sudan issued any deadlines for the withdrawal of the South Sudanese troops from the area?
AMABASSADOR LYMAN: I don’t have exact information on the actual position of forces. I’ve seen reports of fighting north of Heglig. No, they haven’t set a deadline here. What they’ve said is immediate withdrawal, and they haven’t put a timetable on it. And they’ve talked about, of course, wanting to organize to try and retake it. But they haven’t – beyond that, I can’t – I don’t have really details of the military positions on the ground.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: Thanks. We’re ready for the next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question is from Hewete Haileselawsie with BBC World Service.
OPERATOR: Your line is open.
AMBASSADOR LYMAN: Hello.
QUESTION: Hello. Yes. Thanks for taking the question. The United States was key in brokering the peace agreement. Now do you – now how do you think you can stop the two countries from going to war?
AMBASSADOR LYMAN: Well, partly by with what we’re doing now, which is to work with both parties in a very intensive way. But the CPA itself, in which U.S. was heavily engaged with, was also a very widespread international effort. And that’s extremely important. It was led by the East Africans. It had a friends group. It had quite a machinery to it, in which we played a major role. Here too, it’s got to be an international effort. We have an Africa Union mediation panel. As I mentioned, we have high-level African and Arab meetings next week. And I think that we can work best by bringing all these parties together. I should mention also, China. I have a counterpart envoy, Ambassador Guijin. We are staying in very close touch about how China can be helpful with us. You may know President Kiir is scheduled to leave for China on Sunday. So we’ve talked about how that visit can be used to help in the process.
So I think the key is to keep the international community very, very tightly unified and to use these instruments that we’ve got for the parties to come back from this brink.
MR. TONER: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question from Peter Fabricius with Independent Newspapers.
QUESTION: Hi, Ambassador Lyman. Thanks very much for this. I would just ask you when you say that you’ve narrowed down the issue to security, I gather you mean from both sides. What exactly was the security provocation which South Sudan saw in justifying the need to occupy Heglig? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR LYMAN: Peter, good to hear from you. Peter, what is striking – and it’s, I guess, not uncommon in this situation – is that I heard a litany in Juba of attacks, provocations, cross-border violations to which they had exercised restraint. And here in Khartoum, I hear a virtual identical litany: “Oh, it’s the other side that has done all these things.” And what’s happening here is, of course, that each side is seeing the other’s provocations, and this side sees it as self-defense and vice versa.
But the fundamental security issues are these: Across that border, there have been support for proxies, and there’s spillover from the Southern Kordofan-Blue Nile wars. And that is creating a series of clashes and conflicts across the border as each tries to secure its own interests as they see them along that border.
That’s why we need two things: We need them to go ahead with what they had previously agreed upon about demilitarization and verification and monitoring of that border, a 20-kilometer border zone. But you can’t do that alone. You’ve got to get at some of these underlying causes, and that’s why I mentioned the conflict in Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile, and the reiteration from the two, even though they’ve committed themselves before, no support of proxies.
And those are the – that sort of pulls together three critical security issues, which are really what’s underneath this series of clashes that have been going on, actually, since last June.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MR. TONER: Thank you. Ready for our next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question from Oren Dorell with USA Today.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks also for doing this. I was wondering, in these – as this situation moves forward, do you see the possibility of needing or requesting peacekeepers or some outside – are outside forces going to be asked to come in to keep these two sides apart?
AMBASSADOR LYMAN: Well, thanks. We have three UN peacekeeping operations between these countries. We have one in Darfur. We have one in South Sudan. And we have one in Abyei. So I can imagine the UN Security Council raising an eyebrow if someone came and said, “Let’s add a few more.” But already in the mandate for the one in Abyei – it’s called UNISFA – the force commander there has been given a mandate to work with the parties on the verification and monitoring of this demilitarized 20-kilometer border zone. So we already have a basis for the UN’s being able to involve itself and assist in that process.
Now whether it’s sufficient or not, I don’t think the idea of big new UN peacekeeping forces is a practical thing at all. But given the mechanism they’ve already agreed upon in principle and the role of the force commander from Abyei, there should be the basis for a collaborative effort that doesn’t require new international peacekeepers.
MR. TONER: Thank you. I think we have time for just one more question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our final question from Matthew Schofield with McClatchy Newspaper.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thanks for doing this, Ambassador. Do – we saw Ban Ki-moon talk about this being an illegal act by South Sudan. Do you agree? Does the United States agree with this position? And does that change the dynamic at all?
AMBASSADOR LYMAN: One of the things that was interesting in my discussions in Juba was that they were surprised that people thought they were crossing the border. “Didn’t you know,” they said, “that we have claimed Heglig as part of the disputed border area?” Well, in fact, in the discussions that have gone on in the disputed border areas, that was not clear. And so people did assume, as we did, that there was at least, if not an officially recognized by both sides border, there was a border which was crossed. They don’t see it that way.
But the point – and they have now acknowledged this – that you don’t settle disputed border areas by occupying them. And that’s why walking back to dealing with the basic security problem and putting those disputed border areas back into the negotiation framework is the way we have to deal with that. And I think the discussion of it in terms of its disputed character is something for the negotiations. It’s not the way we should deal with this current crisis.
MR. TONER: Thank you, Ambassador Lyman. I know you’ve had a busy day, so we’ll let you go. And thanks, everyone, for joining us from various parts of the world. That concludes today’s –
AMBASSADOR LYMAN: It’s my pleasure, too. Thanks for your interest, everybody.
MR. TONER: Great. Have a good day, everyone.