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As Sudan votes in referendum, US shows continued involvement

As the week-long Sudan referendum vote wraps up, the United States's words and actions show that it intends to continue a high level of diplomatic engagement.

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Aside from deciding how to split oil revenues after secession, the two Sudanese governments have yet to decide on what citizenship options will be given to southerners in the North, whether and how debt will be shared, and the status of Abyei (which in recent days saw an outbreak of violence that the UN Secretary General said was deeply concerning) among other technical economic and legal issues. Given these realities, US officials have emphasized that this week’s referendum vote is a beginning, not an end.

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“[N]o matter what happens, it’s the beginning of a new chapter because issues are going to have to continue to be resolved,” said Senator John Kerry in a press conference in Juba. “We are prepared – in fact, anxious – to be part of helping to write that next chapter.”

And in a hopeful sign of continued US commitment from the very top, this message of “beginning” headlined President Barack Obama’s Sudan op-ed published in The New York Times on the first day of voting.

“[L]asting peace in Sudan will demand far more than a credible referendum,” said Obama, who emphasized the need for a political solution in Darfur in addition to those outstanding issues related to secession. The administration recently appointed former ambassador Dane Smith as the lead US negotiator for Darfur.

US incentives, including removal from the state sponsors of terrorism list, normalization of relations, and ending economic sanctions, remain on the table as a means of influencing the Sudanese government’s decision-making in the way forward. In Tuesday’s press conference, Lyman elaborated on the timing of these incentives, saying that completion of the referendum and acceptance of its results would prompt the US government to begin examining removal of Sudan from the sponsors of terrorism list. Consultations with Congress and other reviews would begin, Lyman said.

Actual removal of the state sponsor designation probably would not take place until July and would require resolution of post-referendum issues and Abyei, according to Lyman.

Amanda Hsiao blogs for the Enough Project at Enough Said.

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