The Cable

Kerry to spend week in Sudan

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) arrived in Sudan on Tuesday, where he will spend the entire week in the lead-up to the long-awaited Jan. 9 referendum that could lead to Southern Sudan’s emergence as an independent country. "Sudan is at a pivotal moment," Kerry said in a statement. "The United States played ...

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) arrived in Sudan on Tuesday, where he will spend the entire week in the lead-up to the long-awaited Jan. 9 referendum that could lead to Southern Sudan’s emergence as an independent country.

"Sudan is at a pivotal moment," Kerry said in a statement. "The United States played an important role in ending the civil war in Sudan and making the vote this Sunday possible. Our commitment to the Sudanese people will extend beyond the referendum, whatever its outcome, as we work to improve economic and humanitarian conditions in the region."

This is Kerry’s fourth trip to Sudan since first traveling there in April 2009. He met with senior leaders from the north and the south during his last trip in October. Last September, Kerry introduced the Sudan Peace and Stability Act of 2010, which calls for the U.S. government to provide increased aid to Southern Sudan, develop contingency planning in case violence breaks out, review existing sanctions if the country splits into two, appoint a full-time senior official to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, and develop a multiyear strategy for helping end the Darfur tragedy.

Meanwhile, the administration’s Sudan team is working furiously to help set the conditions for a free and fair election and to ensure that the outcome will be honored by both sides. The administration team — led by special envoy Scott Gration and Ambassador Princeton Lyman — is involved in every aspect of the process. Also, teams from the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization are spread across Southern Sudan as part of the preparation and monitoring effort.

Gration said last month that one crucial effort was to determine the future status of Abyei, a disputed, oil-rich region that will not be voting next week because of disagreements over voter eligibility and logistical delays. If the country splits, the north and the south could both claim ownership of Abyei, turning the region into a potential flashpoint for renewed conflict.

"We are working with both sides to calm the rhetoric and put a plan in place that will give both sides reassurances," Gration said about the Abyei situation. "This is probably not a situation where either side will be happy. We’re looking for a solution that leaves both sides angry but neither side mad."

The ruling regime in the north, led by indicted war criminal President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has been accused by human rights groups of attempting to intimidate voters ahead of the polls. Although Bashir, who is currently in Juba, has said that he would honor the south’s secession, the fear is that Bashir’s government will not let the south secede and will use a variety of measures ranging from violence to legal challenges to resist implementing the election results.

Considering that the international community has so far been unable to force Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo to honor his country’s poll results, there’s real concern that Bashir may prove to be an even bigger obstacle to next week’s election in Sudan.

"Ivory Coast really is a test case. There is a great deal of diplomacy occurring now, with escalating costs and consequences for the government of the Ivory Coast for what they are doing," John Prendergast, CEO of the Enough Project, told ABC This Week‘s Jake Tapper. "Similarly in Sudan, there has to be a cost and a consequence. If the government of Sudan is going to undermine this referendum, if the government of Sudan is going to continue to undertake terrible human rights violations in Darfur, there has to be a diplomatic consequence."

 Twitter: @joshrogin

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola