Obama amps up intervention to prevent Sudan war
President Obama’s meeting with Sudanese leaders this week will set the stage for whether this US administration is seen as a credible arbiter between rivals in the north and south of Sudan.
After coming under intense pressure from Sudan advocates – from grass roots across the US to Sudan watchers in Congress to proponents within the Obama administration of a tougher stance – administration officials laid out a series of incentives to entice Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party to allow a credible referendum in the south and make postreferendum arrangements with the southern semi-autonomous government. If preparations stall, or if the NCP meddles in the referendum or its aftermath, Khartoum could face additional sanctions.Skip to next paragraph
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The substance of the offer may not be much different from what the Obama administration has put forth all along; the incentives and pressures alluded to by State Department officials at the unveiling of the new Sudan policy last year were never made public. And again, the incentives part of the package has been emphasized over the pressures. But who is doing the offering is significant.
This past week has seen a blitz of meetings and interviews on Sudan from top Obama administration officials. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Adviser James L. Jones made phone calls to Sudanese leaders to press for movement on negotiations. Fresh from a trip to the north and south, the president’s special envoy briefed reporters at the State Department, calling it a “make-or-break period for Sudan.”
“There are no get out of jail free cards here. The government of Sudan and indeed the leadership of South Sudan have to meet a very clear set of benchmarks with regard to the North-South agreement and Darfur. Only in that context will there be benefits that accrue from the United States, and should they fail to, obviously we’ve been clear that consequences remain on the table.”
The Washington Post reported that the Obama administration has held daily interagency meetings on Sudan for the past two weeks. It’s all in preparation for President Obama’s first direct interaction with Sudanese leaders since taking office; this week he will meet for an hour with Sudan’s Vice President Ali Osman Taha and South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
Undoubtedly, this recalibration also came from the realization that having its dedicated but inexperienced Sudan envoy publicly push an incentives-heavy approach isn’t having the desired result. Key logistical preparations for the January 9 referendum remain undone, and little progress has been made to sort out arrangements for the way north and south will deal with questions of citizenship, oil sharing, and economic cooperation, to name just a few of the contentious issues.