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U.S. Sudan envoy might be willing to meet with Bashir

In the Foggy Bottom office meeting room of U.S. Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration, the walls are covered with maps. Then, squarely behind the seat at the head of the table, is a wipe-board with two important “count downs:” 148 working days Sudan’s elections and 346 before the referendum that will decide whether South Sudan ...

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US envoy to Sudan Scott Gration speaks during a press conference in Khartoum on May 7, 2009. Gration is on an official visit to Sudan to discuss peace and humanitarian aid to the war-torn region of Darfur. AFP PHOTO/ASHRAF SHAZLY (Photo credit should read ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images)

In the Foggy Bottom office meeting room of U.S. Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration, the walls are covered with maps. Then, squarely behind the seat at the head of the table, is a wipe-board with two important “count downs:” 148 working days Sudan’s elections and 346 before the referendum that will decide whether South Sudan will go independent from the North.

“That’s not a whole lot of time,” Gration said this morning at a blogger roundtable which I attended. There is much work to do.

I’ll mention some “breaking news” now, and blog more in depth thereafter: 

1) Gration said that “last night,” the administration did “reach and agreement on the overall broad framework on what we call incentives and pressures” that will govern  a long-awaited Sudan policy release (a document that will lay out the approach of the new administration). A vote from the “principals” is still necessary, but Gration was confident that an internal government consensus had been reached. Sudan, he said, is a high priority for the administration. He has “weekly” meetings with the White House, and has had “daily” contact recently to finalize the policy release.

2) Responding to a query about his active engagement with a government whose president, Omar el-Bashir, has been indicted for war crimes, said: “I’ve not met with Bashir, nor do I have plans to meet with him. But I’m not ruling it out if we have to do it to move the process forward.” Gration defended his strong engagement with Khartoum, for which he has been criticized by some advocacy groups. Such ties were the only real viable way to move peace forward in both Southern Sudan and Darfur, he said. “We would like to be able to fix Darfur and the South and the Chad conflict, the proxy war, we’d like to bring regional stability wihtout ever having to go to Khartoum. I’m serious, it would be wonderful.” But not feasible.

3) Gration generated much controversy in late August by his comments suggesting that some sanctions on Sudan should be rolled back. Today, he spoke of keeping sanctions in place but applying for exemptions for certain projects that are, today, being hindered by strict regulations. “Some of the sanctions that we have in place are actually hindering our ability to do the humanitarian mission and the development mission — and in some ways, even the security mission.”

4) Finally, Gration plans to head back to Sudan later this month — a visit that will begin in Juba, in Southern Sudan, to nail down still contested points of the peace process between North and South. The two sticky issues? The conduct of an upcoming census (a touchy issue with big political stakes for the voter rolls) and the actual details of the law that will govern a 2011 referendum in which South Sudan votes for unification or independence from the rest of the country. In short, Gration is going back to sort out some very fundamental issues. “If we can’t get the refendum law right, if we can’t get the process right, if there’s violations or irregularities, this could really be bad…so we are working extremely hard to make sure that the process is transparent[.]”

More to come…

ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images

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