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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.

By Laura HeatonGuest blogger / September 19, 2010

Southern Sudanese activists march through the southern capital of Juba earlier this month to bolster pro-independence sentiment ahead of a January referendum on whether South Sudan will formally secede from the north. President Obama is due to meet with both northern and sourthern leaders this week in a bid to prevent a decades-long civil war from starting again.

Pete Muller

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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.

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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.”

US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told NPR’s "All Things Considered:"

“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.

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