Background Briefing on South Sudan

Special Briefing
Senior Administration Officials
Via Teleconference
May 6, 2014

MODERATOR: Hi everyone, this is [Moderator]. This is a background call. We’ll have a couple of speakers, both of whom should be referred to in reporting as Senior Administration Officials, please. That’s how we’re going to do this call. Just so you know who’ll be speaking, first we’ll hear from [Senior Administration Official One] at the Treasury Department, who I know you are all very familiar with, and then we’ll hear from [Senior Administration Official Two] here at the State Department, who will talk a little bit about the Secretary’s trip and some of the other policy issues as well. And then we’ll open it up for questions.

So again, this is all background, Senior Administration Officials. Thanks for joining today. As you saw, the Secretary just announced to talk about the sanctions we’ve imposed related to South Sudan. So with that, let’s turn it over to [Senior Administration Official One] and then we’ll go to [Senior Administration Official Two] and then we’ll go to questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks very much, [Moderator], and good afternoon to everyone. Just wanted to talk briefly about the sanctions steps that the Administration has taken today. In the last hour, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control has rolled out sanctions against two individuals who have been driving and directing the conflict in South Sudan. The individuals are a South Sudan anti-government force leader by the name of Peter Gadet and a commander within the South Sudanese Government’s Presidential Guard by the name of Marial Chanuong. And we will have our press release up shortly, if it isn’t up already, to give you the spelling of those individuals.

Marial Chanuong, first, is, as I noted, the commander of the Presidential Guard for the South Sudanese Government, so he is reporting to President Salva Kiir. The Presidential Guard led the operations in Juba following the fighting that began on December 15th of 2013. And the second individual, Peter Gadet, who is fighting among the anti-government forces, is commanding a group of troops who were responsible for some of the horrific violence we saw just last month in Bentiu, the capital of Unity State in South Sudan.

Both of these individuals were sanctioned under the recently issued Executive Order by President Obama EO 13664, which allows us to target those responsible for or complicit in actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, or stability of South Sudan. That EO was signed by the President just last month on April 3rd, 2014. And it is a broad and flexible EO, which gives us the authority to target not just commanders but those directly engaged in violence and those who are providing material support to the forces that we see directing the violence, including those who are targeting UN peacekeepers or those delivering humanitarian supplies.

This new EO will be a critical new peace to our efforts to hold accountable those who obstruct the peace process and those responsible for violence against civilians. Today’s actions are the first designations under this authority, and we expect them to serve as a warning to those engaged in continuing the cycle of violence that has already claimed thousands of lives in South Sudan since December 2013.

And with that, I would turn it over to my State Department colleague.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks very much, and I appreciate the chance to speak about what’s happening in South Sudan. As my colleague from Treasury stated, today the United States officially sanctioned two individuals whose actions have threatened the peace, security, and stability of South Sudan, or who have committed atrocities.

First, Marial Chenuong, as he said, commanded the Presidential Guard Forces and ordered and led attacks directed at civilians in the early stages of this conflict in Juba. The other, Peter Gadet, was – led the anti-government forces who were responsible for the April 17th attack on Bentiu, in violation of the cessation of hostilities from the January 23rd agreement, which resulted in the killing of more than 200 civilians.

As [Senior Administration Official One] said, we will continue to use the authority under President Obama’s executive order to hold accountable those who commit atrocities, obstruct the peace process, or undermine peace and stability in South Sudan.

Today’s announcement comes on the heels of the Secretary’s trip to South Sudan. It was his first as Secretary but by no means his first trip to South Sudan. He traveled to Juba and to the region, where he made very plain that it was critical that all parties abide by the cessation of hostilities, where he met with members of civil society and with UNMISS, the United Nations peacekeeping operation in South Sudan, and where he underscored the vital importance of humanitarian assistance, especially as the rainy season has already commenced.

In these meetings, he pushed for a meeting between President Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar to come to Addis for negotiations as a – one stage but a critical stage in the road to a more inclusive peace process for South Sudan. Both parties have now agreed to travel to Ethiopia for that meeting, and it is now tentatively scheduled for May 9th.

As the Secretary said today, we refuse to let South Sudan plunge into violence, famine, and deeper desperation. We will continue to stand with the people of South Sudan who call for peace and who recognize that the only way to resolve this conflict is through political dialogue.

And we’d be happy to take your questions.

MODERATOR: Great. If the operator could let folks know how to ask a question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. If you’d like to ask a question today, you may press *1 on your telephone keypad, and you should hear a tone acknowledging that you’re in the question queue. Once again, it’s * then 1 at this time.

MODERATOR: Great. Thanks. It looks like our first question is from Reuters, from Anna of Reuters. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) why you chose these particular two people outside of – is it meant to – also to send a message to Kiir and Bashir that there could be more sanctions? And also, are you, in general, ready to sanction more people if the peace talks don’t lead to cessation in the violence? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yes. I mean, as I tried to signal in my opening remarks, this is a very powerful and flexible tool, the President’s new executive order, and today is our first use of the tool. We’re using it in a limited way against two individuals. They’re two individuals that we think are fairly significant, both of whom have blood on their hands with respect to the activities that they have directed or conducted. So we believe today’s actions are significant but also are, as you note, a signal to any who would consider or who are already contributing to violence on either side in South Sudan.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I would just add to that in this case you have individuals who are both responsible for attacks on civilians, one of whom was responsible for attacks that began in December 15th in Juba, and one for attacks in Bentiu much more recently. So we see the sort of scope of the conflict and the toll it’s being – that it’s taking on civilian lives. And I think that was one of the reasons for these selections.

MODERATOR: And I’ll just jump in here. Finally, we’ve also said repeatedly that there are a couple goals with these sanctions, right? One is accountability, which is what you’ve seen today. And the other is to serve as a deterrent, if it can, going forward for future violence. So I think hopefully this can begin to serve both of those goals.

Our next question is from Deb Riechmann of the Associated Press.

QUESTION: Hi. Can you just explain what the sanctions do? I haven’t seen anything yet that says – do they freeze assets or what do they do?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. So they do freeze assets. The other component is that they prohibit any and all transactions by U.S. persons, wherever located, with the designated individuals. What that means, as a practical matter, is that, as of 2:30 today, these names and their identifying bio-identifiers were sent out to tens of thousands of institutions in the U.S. and around the world, who now have them as a part of the OFAC SDN list or blacklist.

And as a practical matter, we’ve seen these actions disrupt and interfere with financial operations of designated individuals far away from U.S. shores. But certainly, the legal direct impact would be any assets they have in a U.S. bank, with a U.S. person, or that transits the U.S. even for a split second would need to be blocked, and U.S. persons can’t do business with them. As a complement, the State Department is – typically enacts a visa ban against the individuals listed as well.

MODERATOR: Thanks. Our next question is from Barbara Usher of the BBC.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m just wondering if it was only a U.S. action. I know that some officials were saying that sanctions would be more effective if Uganda and Kenya participated, because a lot of the assets of these men are in those countries. Is this something that you’ve done in conjunction with neighboring countries?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: We’re definitely working in partnership with neighboring countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, talking to them about these steps as well as their own efforts to secure peace in South Sudan. We are also working in partnership with the European Union and other – the members of the South Sudan Troika, which consists of the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Norway, and coordinating our efforts across the board to bring this crisis to an end.

MODERATOR: Can the operator remind folks how to ask a question, please?

OPERATOR: If you would like to ask a question today, you may press * then 1.

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you. Our next question is from the other Matt Lee, Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Great. Thanks a lot, [Moderator]. I wanted to ask, there was a – it was said that in Security Council consultations at the UN that senior government officials were named in a radio broadcast prior to the attacks in Bor on the UN compound in killing the civilians. I just wonder if you can say are these people – is that the case? Do you know the names of people that sort of called for that attack, and in which case, why aren’t they on this list?

And I also – this might for Senior Administration Official Number Two. Secretary Kerry was talking about a legitimate force to help make peace. And I just wanted to know, is the UN – is the U.S. thinking of that as part of UNMISS mission or as the IGAD force? And if so, would it require a Security Council approval? Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: On the first, I mean, we typically do not comment on actors against whom we are – we have not yet – we have not yet acted, a clunky way of saying we don’t comment on those who are not part of our designation. But anyone who is contributing to the violence, whether that’s by directing violence, whether that’s by funding it, fueling it, contributing arms, can be a subject of designation in the future. And I’ll leave it to my State Department colleague to answer the second question.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. On the question about the regional force and on UNMISS, we – it is something that conversations and discussions are ongoing between countries of IGAD, with New York, with ourselves and others on how best to create this additional force presence that we are working very much with UNMISS and see this as part of the same effort. But we do think it’s very important that the regional forces are able to join this effort in larger numbers and appreciate the efforts of, particularly, the governments of Ethiopia and Kenya, who are leading the mediation and who are seeking to work with UNMISS in this regard.

MODERATOR: Great, thanks. Our next question is from Phil Stewart of Reuters.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Can you hear me?

MODERATOR: We can hear you.

QUESTION: Great. Just quickly, what assets of these two individuals are actually going to be affected if any? Are there any identified? And also, I’m seeing a report that Uganda is saying that targeted sanctions against South Sudan are not necessary. Has Uganda communicated this to the United States? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: So we typically will put out an action like this and then hear from financial institutions in the coming hours about assets that they’ve frozen. We don’t have perfect transparency, of course, into where assets may be held or where they be moved. And movement of assets is really important to recall here, in that a typical international transfer from one country to another, neither U.S. – neither of them, the United States, will often transit U.S. shores.

So many lay people aren’t following the dynamics of what a U.S. designation means, but what it means is typically a transaction between two African countries may well touch a U.S. institution, and a transaction of that type would need to be blocked in the U.S. But as of today, the moment of designation, we’re not identifying the assets of blocked individuals and we don’t traditionally identify how much has been blocked under an individual’s name.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I can’t comment on Uganda’s statement specifically. I can tell you that we have been talking to all the countries in the region and we will continue to do so and take on board their thoughts on this. We do very much think that targeted sanctions – and these are highly targeted sanctions – will, in fact, have the impact we hope, and that we will continue to dialogue with the region on it.

MODERATOR: Great, thanks. I think we have time for a few more. The next question is from Gregory Warner of NPR.

QUESTION: Yeah. I’ll make this quick and I’m joining by Skype from Juba. So I guess I just wanted to clarify – and maybe you don’t know this – but the percentage, a rough percentage, of their assets that might be affected by the sanction and that split-second passage though the U.S. that we’re talking about. And then also, in terms of your conversations with the neighboring countries, I mean, how soon do you hope that the neighboring countries will join the sanctions, or is that your intention?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: On the first question, obviously, we’re not in a position to assess what percentage of their assets might be bound up in international transactions. It’s not simply a question of what might have been transiting today, but on any future day. So long as these designations are in effect, they’ll bar these individuals from access to the U.S. dollar, to the U.S. financial system, and any transactions that are attempted will more than likely be blocked.

But in an action like this, the primary purpose, as you heard both myself and my colleague describing, is not a freezing of funds. The primary purpose is to isolate and apply pressure to change the decision-making calculus of the key actors involved, whether that’s the two individuals we named today, who we very much hope will desist from directing bloodshed against innocent civilians, or whether that’s others who would contemplate engaging in similar actions. So the tool here is a financial tool, but of course it’s much more than that, and these actions are noted around the world and have, in the past, served as powerful disruptors and deterrent actions against individuals engaged in human rights abuses.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: And on the question of other countries in the region, we definitely encourage others in the international community to take similar steps, and we will work with the UN Security Council in the effort to authorize additional targeted sanctions. These are issues that the Secretary discussed during his visit to Addis last week, and to make sure that the steps we are taking are consistent with the goals of the mediating teams and other partners in the region.

MODERATOR: Great, thanks. Our next question’s from Pat Reiber of the German Press Agency.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. I think most of my questions have been answered. I was – just wanted to know more about what Kenya and Uganda will be doing, and Ethiopia, in accord with the sanctions that the U.S. is putting out there.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. On that, as we said, we certainly encourage others in the international community to take similar steps to what we’ve done today.

MODERATOR: Great. Our next question’s from Emile Barroody of Al Mayadeen.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you for doing this. Is there any other sanctions in the pipes against other members of the South Sudan military?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: We don’t talk about prospective actions that may still be coming, but we are clearly signaling today our willingness to use this tool against others who are directing or committing acts of violence. And the hope here, of course, is to incentivize the diplomacy and to encourage the talks that we’re all very much hoping will reduce the violence.

MODERATOR: Great, thanks. And it looks like our last question’s from Brian Monroe of

QUESTION: I’m going to record it so we can put it on the site, okay?

MODERATOR: This is on background, though, so you can’t actually record it for the site. Brian?

QUESTION: Hello? Can you hear me?

MODERATOR: Yeah. Did you hear me?

QUESTION: Oh, now I can perfectly. No, the key question I was asking is – I apologize (inaudible), another conversation jumped in there – I was just curious, what is the expectations from banks in terms of the depth of due diligence on these names? I mean, because always the question is: Is this names that they just put in their filters and they just see what sticks out? Or do you expect maybe a more rigorous look in terms of assets or sub-entities, or basically, just all the assets tied to these names? Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Hey, Brian, this is the Moderator. Did you hear that this call’s on background, so not to be recorded for broadcast?


MODERATOR: Okay. So you can’t record the answer and put it on your website.

QUESTION: No, no, no, that was a conversation for someone else. No, absolutely.

MODERATOR: Oh, okay. Well, it came up on here. Okay. Go ahead. If my colleagues have answers, go ahead and [Senior Administration Official One] may.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. So the primary obligation, of course, is to ensure that filters contain these names and identifiers to be sure that any current accounts are searched, and any prospective transactions or account openings are detected and blocked.

We’re not talking with these two individuals about CEOs or those who have large business interests, and so I don’t think the question about how deep should people be diving in terms of their due diligence is as applicable as it might be in another context. But of course, if you’re a bank that has more heavy exposure to South Sudan, to business coming in and out of Juba, that implies a greater burden with respect to the due diligence one needs to do.

MODERATOR: Okay, great. Well, thank you to everyone for joining. Again, sorry to be a stickler there, I thought you were talking about this call. This is all on background, senior Administration officials. As always, you know how to follow up with us, but thanks to everyone for joining, and have a great rest of your evening.