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Out of sticks, US offers Sudan a carrot to let South Sudan secede

The US offered this week to remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terror as early as the middle of next year if Sudan agrees to let South Sudan secede in a referendum in January.

By Alan BoswellCorrespondent / November 11, 2010

Gazi Salah Eldin, presidential adviser in charge of the Darfur file, talks to US Sen. John Kerry (l.) after his arrival in Khartoum, Sudan, on Nov. 6. Kerry is on a visit to assess the country's readiness for a January referendum on independence for its southern region.

Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters

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Juba, South Sudan

Fearing a new surge of violence in Sudan, Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts played diplomat once again this week by flying out to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, for the second time in just two weeks.

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Senator Kerry brought with him a message from President Obama: If President Omar al-Bashir lets Sudan’s oil-rich southern region secede peacefully in an upcoming referendum in January, the US will remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terror as early as the middle of next year. The State Department designation is shared by only 3 other countries: Cuba, Iran, and Syria.

But will the offer work?

Independence mania

Semiautonomous South Sudan heads to the polls in Jan. 9 for a referendum on secession, and independence mania here is in full swing. A digital clock counting down to the date has been erected in main roundabout of the capital, Juba. The edifice shows a picture of two fists breaking out of shackles.

Sudan 101: Could the war over South Sudan spark up again?

Yet southerners – and the international community – remain unconvinced Bashir is ready to let the south go, despite the fact he agreed to the plebiscite under a 2005 US-brokered peace deal. South Sudan is home to 80 percent of the nation’s oil production, vast tracts of arable land, and most of Sudan’s above-ground water.

Obama's carrot

The US is hoping to use its diplomatic weight to try to persuade Sudan to abide by its own rules. But Obama’s options are limited. Short of military action, the US has little to threaten Sudan with, so heavily was the nation put under sanctions during Bill Clinton and George W. Bush’s presidencies.

So instead of “sticks,” the Obama administration is trying a different track: incentives, or “carrots.” Kerry’s new proposal sweetens a previous offer from the Obama administration by speeding up the timeframe the administration can expect the terror label to be lifted, and by making it independent of developments in Darfur, where conflict continues.

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