Bush’s last-minute Sudan diplomacy

On Monday in Washington, President Bush made one last ditch attempt for Darfur: he held talks with the least-worst person he could. That person was Salva Kiir, who is both the Vice-President of Sudan and President of Southern Sudan. Hours earlier, the administration announced it was authorizing an emergency shipment of supplies to Darfur from ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
589822_090107_kiir5.jpg
589822_090107_kiir5.jpg

On Monday in Washington, President Bush made one last ditch attempt for Darfur: he held talks with the least-worst person he could.

That person was Salva Kiir, who is both the Vice-President of Sudan and President of Southern Sudan. Hours earlier, the administration announced it was authorizing an emergency shipment of supplies to Darfur from Rwanda using two C-17 cargo planes. Another 240 containers of goods will be moved from ports into Darfur to help the fledgling UN-African Union peacekeeping mission.

That leaves me with two questions: Will the supplies do any good? And what exactly is the United States hoping to achieve?

On Monday in Washington, President Bush made one last ditch attempt for Darfur: he held talks with the least-worst person he could.

That person was Salva Kiir, who is both the Vice-President of Sudan and President of Southern Sudan. Hours earlier, the administration announced it was authorizing an emergency shipment of supplies to Darfur from Rwanda using two C-17 cargo planes. Another 240 containers of goods will be moved from ports into Darfur to help the fledgling UN-African Union peacekeeping mission.

That leaves me with two questions: Will the supplies do any good? And what exactly is the United States hoping to achieve?

First the supplies: The UN-AU hybrid mission is only at 63 percent of its strength, more than two years after the force was authorized, wracked with one difficulty after another (as if patrolling a space the size of France wasn’t hard enough.) Cars and equipment have been stolen; fuel was siphoned from planes at night. Journalists have told me that Sudanese government forces are responsible.

But after months of quietly thwarting further deployment, the Sudanese government has finally swung open the door, “leaving the ball on the side of the UN,” International Crisis Group Horn of Africa Director Fouad Hikmat tells me. It’s up to UN member countries, particularly the U.S. which provides over a quarter of the budget, to handle the logistics of sending in peacekeepers. Will they be able to make a difference? Hikmat’s read: “This is very very very good.”

At first glance, it looks like President Bush is trying to cement his legacy as a genocide fighter. But if Bush is thinking Darfur, why meet with Kiir, a Southerner with little record in the region?

Country-wide voting is scheduled for Sudan this year — part of a 6-year Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the decades long war between North and South Sudan in 2005. The light at the end of that long tunnel for Southerners is a vote on secession in 2011. If all goes according to plan, they’ll vote on whether to remain autonomous, or become independent.

Like many Southerners, Kiir favors secession. But countrywide elections have to happen first — and Darfur is in no shape to hold them. “[Southern politicians] for a long time weren’t involved in Darfur, they were focused inward,” Hikmat tells me. Now, they see they should become engaged because Darfur is a very serious threat to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement [and their secession vote].”

One more complication: the International Criminal Court may soon issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir. That makes Kiir the international powerbroker with the most credibility.

So Bush’s and Kiir’s interest may be right in line. For now. The U.S. should think long and hard about whether they want to back a secession, an outcome that Kiir favors and that Khartoum will certainly fight to prevent. It is an open secret that both South Sudan and the Khartoum government are arming in anticipation of the referendum in 2011. Yet another dilemma for the new President to look forward to.

Photo: Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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