Obama Administration Takes Credit for Birth of South Sudan

By Patrick Goodenough | July 8, 2011 | 4:46 AM EDT

Southern Sudanese children rehearse for independence day celebrations in the capital city of Juba on Monday, July 4, 2011. (AP Photo/Pete Muller)

(CNSNews.com) – The important role played by President George W. Bush in setting South Sudan on the road to independence went unacknowledged by Obama administration officials at a briefing Thursday ahead of Saturday’s birth of the world’s newest sovereign nation.

While President Obama’s “steadfast leadership and personal engagement” was noted, Bush was not mentioned once during the briefing by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson and USAID Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg.

Rice, who heads a presidential delegation attending the independence celebrations, did recognize the efforts of former Secretary of State Colin Powell – also part of the delegation – and former U.S. envoy to Sudan John Danforth, saying the two had “worked so hard to lay the groundwork for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.”

But she focused the rest of her acknowledgements on the efforts and achievements of the current administration.

“The United States has worked tirelessly to help make the promise of this moment a reality,” she said. “First, it would not have been possible without the steadfast leadership and personal engagement of President Obama, who raised his voice consistently and eloquently as he did before what was a historic gathering at the United Nations last September, where he spoke in support, quote, ‘of a future where, after the darkness of war, there can be a new day of peace and progress.’”

Rice also mentioned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Carson, Obama’s Sudan special envoy Princeton Lyman, his predecessor, Scott Gration, “and many others.”

The Bush administration laid the groundwork for South Sudan’s independence when it led four years of intensive international diplomacy resulting in the landmark 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The accord ended the two decade-long civil war between the Muslim north and the mostly Christian and animist south that cost two million lives.

The CPA was a blueprint for a six-year period of peaceful power-sharing between the north and south. It provided for a semi-autonomous government in the south, agreements on sharing oil and other resources, national elections in 2010 – billed as Sudan’s first multi-party presidential election in more than two decades – and, on January 9 this year, a referendum on whether the south should secede or remain part of a united Sudan.

Bush involved himself personally in the arduous negotiations, calling Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to urge progress on a number of occasions, both during the drawn-out process and after the CPA. Four such phone calls to Bashir took place in December 2003, March 2004, August 2005 and May 2006.

A Congressional Research Service report on Sudan, updated last March, refers to the deep involvement of the U.S. in the negotiations.

Southern Sudanese soldiers participate in an independence rehearsal procession in Juba on Thursday, July 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Pete Muller)

“Throughout the … talks, the Bush Administration engaged the parties at the highest levels, reportedly including calls by President Bush to the principals at critical times during the negotiations, and frequent visits by senior State Department officials to Kenya, where the talks were being conducted,” it said.

“U.S. financial support for the peace process and technical assistance during the talks

were considered by the parties and the mediators as critical, according to U.S. officials,” the report stated.

“American interventions at critical times during the negotiations helped break a number of stalemates, including during security arrangement talks and the three disputed areas of Nuba, Southern Blue Nile, and Abyei. Sustained U.S. pressure on the government of Sudan was a factor in securing the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).”

‘Extremely volatile’

On Saturday, the “Republic of South Sudan” formally comes into existence, under the leadership of President Salva Kiir. While in Juba, Rice and her delegation will participate in a ceremony turning the U.S. consulate there into the U.S. Embassy.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to meet next week to discuss South Sudan’s admission as the United Nations’ 193rd member state.

Shadows loom over the historic occasion, however, caused by several unresolved and potentially explosive issues.

Southern Sudanese boys take shelter from afternoon rains that disrupted rehearsals for independence day celebrations in the capital city of Juba on Monday, July 4, 2011. Southern Sudan is set to declare independence from the north on July 9. (AP Photo/Pete Muller)

Oil-rich Abyei, located along the north-south divide, remains in dispute – as it has since well before the CPA was signed. Its inhabitants were meant to hold a separate referendum alongside the national one in January, to decide whether to join the north or the south, but the vote never took place because of differences over voter eligibility.

After north-south clashes, soldiers from the (north) Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) occupied Abyei in May. The U.S. helped to negotiate an agreement last month to withdraw troops from the area and deploy Ethiopian peacekeepers there.

Some 100,000 people in Abyei have been displaced by the fighting, and Rice on Thursday described the situation as “extremely volatile.” The area’s status remains undetermined, and she warned that to allow Abyei and several other issues “to linger without resolution for any length of time could swiftly destabilize the future relationship between these two states.”

Meanwhile in South Kordofan state, north of the soon-to-be international border, many of the inhabitants lean towards the south, including a group that allied itself to southern rebels during the civil war.

Fighting erupted there last month, and following SAF bombing some human rights advocates voiced suspicions that Bashir was trying to clear the state of anyone sympathetic to the south.

Bashir’s government is insisting that U.N. peacekeeping troops leave South Kordofan and other tense border areas on Saturday, but Rice said it was vital to extend their presence – to support ceasefire efforts and protect civilians.

Carson told the briefing that although July 9 marks the “technical conclusion” of the CPA, key elements of the agreement remain unsettled, including Abyei’s status, resolution of five remaining border disputes, oil and transitional financial arrangements and issues of citizenship.

He and Rice both stressed that the U.S. would remain engaged and active in supporting the full implementation of the agreement.

On the issue of Sudan’s removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, Carson and Rice said that could only take place after Khartoum has met its obligations under the CPA.

Carson added that Sudan would also have to meet other statutory criteria for removal from the list.

U.S. law requires the president will have to certify to Congress that a designated country has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period. The country must also provide assurances that it will not support terrorism in the future.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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