July 18, 2003
There have been a number of significant public comments in the several days since the National Islamic Front (NIF) regime in Khartoum rejected out of hand the draft peace accord presented by chief Machakos mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo. The language of the NIF not only amplifies the bombastic terms of rejection, but also contains a series of implicit threats to the Machakos process, presently slated to resume in five days (July 23, 2003) at Nakuru, Kenya. Moreover, there has been no attempt by Khartoum to qualify its critical, finally insulting public characterizations of the Machakos mediators. Given the stridency and vehemence with which the draft peace accord has been rejected, it seems unlikely that the NIF has any intention of showing up for the critical session of July 23 to discuss the draft further.
At the same time, recent language out of Cairo—by US special envoy John Danforth, Arab League chief Amr Mussa, and Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Maher—is also deeply ominous, and suggests a willingness to undercut General Sumbeiywo at the critical moment in the peace talks. Here it is important to recall Sumbeiywo’s own characterization of the draft he presented, on behalf of the Machakos mediators and the “troika” (the UK, Norway, and the US), at Nakuru this past weekend:
“[Sumbeiywo said] the draft proposal is balanced. ‘They [Khartoum’s negotiators] have a right to suggest what they want,’ he said. ‘My proposal is fair and the international community agreed with me that it was fair. I am very impartial, and they [Khartoum’s negotiators] have acknowledged [so] themselves on many occasions, including today.” (Voice of America, July 13, 2003)
Even so, Danforth declared in Cairo that this key document, representing diplomatic consensus among the mediators, was “only a draft” (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, July 16, 2003), and emphasized not the achievement represented by the document but the possibilities of further revision. His comments complement those of Arab League chief Amr Mussa (former Egyptian foreign minister), who went further and “urged mediators from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to withdraw its draft peace accord” (Agence France-Presse, July 14, 2003). Such urging has come, of course, at Khartoum’s explicit behest and threatens to compromise the authority of IGAD sponsorship of the peace talks:
“Riak Quai, vice president of Sudan’s ruling National Congress party, asked Arab League chief Amr Mussa to urge mediators from the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to withdraw its draft peace accord.” (Agence France-Presse, July 14, 2003)
Also weighing in was the Egyptian government, which has already excoriated in savagely critical terms the key feature of the Machakos Protocol (July 2002), guaranteeing the people of southern Sudan a self-determination referendum. Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports (July 16, 2003, citing MENA) that present Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher “stressed to the U.S. envoy the need for the IGAD to display ‘neutrality’ as it goes about mediating a solution to the Sudanese conflict. He also renewed his country’s opposition to the secession of the south.” The clear implication is that Egypt regards the Machakos mediators, and Sumbeiywo in particular, as lacking in “neutrality.” It is difficult to imagine a more destructive comment, echoing as it does those out of Khartoum, at the moment in which the regional and international communities should be doing all they can to support Sumbeiywo and the Machakos/IGAD mediators.
All this comes, of course, in the wake of the NIF characterization of the Machakos draft accord: “Unfair, contradictory, and unfit to constitute a basis for negotiation”; rendering further talks “meaningless”; “completely unacceptable.” And upping the rhetorical ante was NIF president Omer Beshir, who “told Kenyan-based mediators they can ‘go to hell’ if they insist on pushing a draft peace settlement rejected by his negotiators” (Agence France-Presse, July 14, 2003), and further that “the mediators [must] ‘come up with a reasonable alternative, otherwise they have to dissolve the [draft peace accord] document in water and drink it'” (Agence France-Presse, July 14, 2003).
What do these comments, taken together, suggest about the fate of the draft peace accord, and the Machakos process more generally? The answers are not encouraging; indeed, they suggest how close the peace talks are to utter collapse—and how close we are to seeing a resumption of all-out civil war in Sudan.
The first and most urgent question is what document will be the basis for negotiations that are (scheduled) to resume July 23, 2003. Will it be the document that chief mediator Sumbeiywo presented? If not, who will draft a substitute document? Sumbeiywo has made clear he feels the document that has been crafted by the mediators is “balanced” and “fair”—and that “the international community agreed with me that it was fair” (Voice of America, July 13, 2003). Sumbeiywo cannot retain his authority and integrity if he now abandons a draft that he has characterized in these terms. But if Sumbeiywo resigns, who can possibly replace him at this key juncture? Who would assume the lead role in the negotiating process? Who can bring to bear, at the critical moment, the experience of leading the process for the last year and more? Further, we should recall that it was Sumbeiywo who very recently engaged in an intense and extensive canvassing of Sudanese opinion—north and south. Who can bring this experience to bear at the moment of truth for Machakos?
It seems very doubtful that Danforth and the US have any way of offering acceptable answers to any of these questions. Indeed, Danforth’s perverse response in Nairobi to the present state of negotiations is to downplay diplomatic difficulties:
“‘The remaining issues, while they are certainly significant issues, are not as difficult and not as contentious as the two that have already been resolved,’ former senator Danforth, who is US President George W Bush’s envoy to Sudan, told a news conference.” “‘Wealth-sharing, power-sharing, security (and) the status of the capital’ were ‘in my opinion, very solvable.'”
(Reuters, July 18, 2003)
This bizarre optimism flies in the face of the very diplomatic realities that have been spectacularly on display for the last week. Indeed, it is as though Danforth were not cognizant of the fact that there has been no substantial progress on any of these key issues, despite intense negotiations, since the signing of the Machakos Protocol, a full year ago. His account would thus seem to suggest that the US has grown impatient with the process, and that Khartoum’s strategy of brinksmanship may in fact be paying off. By declaring what is of course a truism—that “the 20-year-old civil war in Sudan can not be allowed ‘to drag on'” (Agence France-Presse, July 17, 2003)—Danforth seems to be creating an urgency that in present diplomatic circumstances will inevitably push the peace agreement toward Khartoum’s positions.
Moreover, by implying that both parties, Khartoum and the SPLM/A, may be equally unresponsive to the opportunities for peace, he suggests a highly problematic equivalency. Reuters (July 18, 2003) reports Danforth as saying, “‘That has always been the question—whether the two sides really want peace.” South Africa’s News24 (July 18, 2003) reports Danforth as saying, “‘My belief is the parties are very close to resolving [the issues] and that is possible in a short period of time—provided, provided that each of the two sides truly wants peace.” The UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (July 18, 2003) reports Danforth as saying, “‘Maybe the two sides are comfortable with the status quo.'”
But these comments imply that the question of commitment to peace is as relevant for Khartoum as it is for the SPLM/A. The evidence of the last week could not be more revealing of the error in such equivalency, yet another version of the “moral equivalency” that has heretofore crippled diplomatic efforts to end Sudan’s conflict. It is Khartoum that has walked away from the talks; it is Khartoum that has categorically rejected the draft accord presented by the Machakos mediators as the basis for final negotiations; it is Khartoum that shows no signs of returning to negotiate further the issues addressed by the draft document and which Danforth finds so eminently susceptible of solution. The SPLM/A, on the other hand, has unequivocally accepted the draft as a basis for final negotiations of a just peace, even as it is not satisfied with all the terms of the agreement.
There is no “equivalency,” certainly no basis for implying that both parties are equally culpable in their response to draft of a final peace agreement. To imply as much calls into question the integrity of US diplomacy.
The role of the US should be much clearer than Danforth’s comments suggest. The US should not accommodate Khartoum’s temper tantrum but rather declare publicly, through the President and the Secretary of State, American support for the Machakos peace process and its IGAD auspices. It is not enough for Danforth merely to assert that President Bush is “‘personally engaged and interested in and committed’ to achieving peace in Sudan” (Agence France-Presse, July 17, 2003). The President must declare his commitment to the only peace process that has any chance for success, and to the draft document that presently anchors that peace process. The US should also push for a UN resolution declaring the support of the international community for the current peace process and draft accord. There is no other way to pressure Khartoum to engage in diplomacy rather than brinksmanship, to negotiate rather than posture.
The absence of such support for the draft agreement will almost surely force the resignation of chief Machakos mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo, given his statements about the draft. It would also leave completely open the question of what document will serve as the basis for negotiations. Who would draft it on such short notice? Most seriously, how can the SPLM/A be expected to acquiesce in any diplomatic result that derives from Khartoum’s successful policy of brinksmanship? How can the SPLM/A take seriously a process that has succumbed to the pressure of unreasonable bombast and a point-blank refusal to negotiate a good-faith, best-effort draft of a peace accord?
The impatience that Danforth is now clearly expressing in public statements also suggests that Khartoum’s behavior may in the end lead to an ultimatum from the US to the SPLM/A: “accept our dictates about the draft peace accord, do whatever is necessary to accommodate Khartoum, or we (and by implication the international community) will abandon the peace process.” This would seem to be the clear implication of Danforth’s disturbingly facile comments before leaving for the region:
“‘One of two things is going to happen,’ Danforth told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. ‘Either there is going to be a peace agreement, in which case the further activities of the U.S. government are going to be in conventional channels—or there’s not going to be a peace agreement, in which case I don’t know what else I can do.'” (Associated Press, June 29, 2003)
Today Danforth added, “that an agreement had to be found soon, or else the current high levels of international interest would wane” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, July 18, 2003).
Of course, the “waning” or abandoning of the search for peace is ultimately what most evidence suggests Khartoum really wants. The ultimate goal of their policy of brinksmanship appears not to be the creation of more favorable terms in a peace agreement but to force the international diplomatic process to create conditions and terms that are intolerable for those representing the people of the south and marginalized areas. And if the peace process does as a consequence break down, then we may be all too certain that a hideous US self-justification will ensue. “They were given a chance for peace but didn’t take it,” will be the rhetorical line of defense as war inevitably resumes with unprecedented fury and destructiveness in the south. The oil regions will then be brought under final military control, with no need for further “talk about revenue-sharing.” Tellingly, Radio Omdurman recently reported that Khartoum is presently training 75,000 new troops; their mission in a renewed war is all too clear.
What the world must see, if it would only look with the slightest moral and intellectual integrity, is that peace will come only if international pressure is forcefully and immediately brought to bear on Khartoum. The voices that matter most are those of the US President and Secretary of State, and the United Nations. The voices of Norway and Great Britain are also of key importance, as are those of the other Western democracies (especially those who have significant commercial ties to Khartoum). But if for reasons of expediency—a desire to accommodate Egypt, a misguided wish to enlist Khartoum more fully in the war on terrorism—Washington fails to support fully the peace process, then the consequences are all too obvious. The most powerful nation in the world will have abandoned millions of innocent Sudanese civilians to the unfathomable human suffering, terror, and destruction that will follow upon renewed war.
It is the task of all who care about Sudan to convey to the Bush administration that this is completely unacceptable, and that the present peace process and its key working document must be supported fully and unequivocally.
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