August 24, 2003
The seventh and most recent round in the Machakos peace talks for Sudan has now formally broken off without progress, despite having been billed as the last round, the round in which a final agreement would be reached. The reason is that there has been no real movement on Khartoum’s part in responding to the Draft Framework presented by the Machakos/IGAD mediators in early July at the town of Nakuru (Kenya), during the previous round of talks. This earlier round of talks (the sixth) collapsed on July 12, 2003 for the same reason the seventh round has collapsed: the National Islamic Front regime has steadfastly, intransigently refused to accept the Draft Framework as the basis for final negotiations.
Khartoum’s initial strategy was to excoriate the Draft Framework in crude and dismissive fashion, with NIF President Omer Beshir telling the Machakos/IGAD mediators to “go to hell” if they thought Khartoum would accept this document. Subsequently NIF Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail demanded the abandonment of the Draft Framework as a “precondition” for attending this climactic round of talks. Finally, Khartoum attended the most recent round of talks, beginning on August 11, 2003 in Nanyuki (Kenya), but only to display a continuing refusal to accept the Nakuru document for what it is: the best effort by the mediators to deal “holistically” with all the issues still in dispute after a year of fruitless talks following the signing of the Machakos Protocol (July 20, 2002).
Yet again it must be stressed that this document is not simply another proposal: it is a Draft Framework for resolving all outstanding issues. Compromises were built into the document by the mediators, with the assumption that there would be give and take on both sides as the peace process moved towards a final agreement. What was presented at Nakuru by the Machakos/IGAD mediators had earlier been assessed—and
approved—by the “troika” nations of Norway, Great Britain, and the US. The meeting at which these three key countries expressed their unanimous approval to the Draft Framework occurred in London at the very beginning of July, just before it was presented at Nakuru by the mediators. The document was delivered personally to the “troika” by chief Machakos/IGAD mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo.
The Draft Framework is quite clearly and simply the document meant to anchor the final round of peace talks, talks which Khartoum has now again broken off by refusing to accept the diplomatic standing of the Draft Framework. In other words, Khartoum is denying the terms that governed the document’s creation, is ignoring its genesis in a year of fruitless talks, and is rejecting the explicit language of arbitration that defined the efforts of the Machakos/IGAD mediators when they moved to this more decisive form of diplomacy.
We should also remember here that Khartoum raised no objections to the idea of a Draft Framework before or during its crafting—only after it was presented. If the regime objected on principle to the idea of a draft that dealt with the entire range of outstanding issues, arbitrating between the different positions of the parties, then it should of course have said so at the time. The leadership of the National Islamic Front did not, undoubtedly confident that they would either see a document they regarded as sufficiently favorable or one which they could simply reject. So far, this confidence seems fully warranted.
Where does the break-off in talks leave us? The talks are now scheduled to resume on September 10th, with September 20th the date set for concluding a peace agreement. What can we expect to see between now and September 10th? and after?
Khartoum is obviously hoping that the international community will ultimately succumb to diplomatic blackmail. The regime believes that if it continues to refuse to accept the Draft Framework as the document it is, then a substitute document will be produced—or the SPLM/A will be bludgeoned into making major concessions before negotiations truly resume. (No issue of substance was discussed at this most recent round of the talks precisely because this fundamental impasse was never surmounted.) For there to be a peace agreement, the status of the Draft Framework must be resolved, and Khartoum confidently feels as though the pressure of this moment of historic opportunity disproportionately favors them, no matter how unreasonable their negotiating position may be.
[Though talks continue in a separate venue on the key set of issues involving the three contested areas (Abyei, Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile), these talks can achieve nothing in themselves: to mean anything, they must become part of a larger, comprehensive agreement. In short, it costs Khartoum nothing to keep talking when any commitments made would gain significance only if there were success in the larger Machakos process. Moreover, Khartoum’s subsequent reneging on any agreement reached in this different diplomatic venue remains a distinct possibility when the effort is made to incorporate such agreement into a final settlement.]
What is key in Khartoum’s thinking here is that diplomatic blackmail will work. By implicitly threatening war (the inevitable outcome of failed peace talks), Khartoum hopes that the international community will split, and will no longer convey the earlier resolve that put IGAD, Kenya, the African Union, the US, as well as the other “troika” countries, all on the same page with respect to the Draft Framework (cf. statements made by these international parties to the talks, August 7 to 10, 2003; reported by various newswires [available upon request]). Instead of assessing Khartoum’s intransigence for what it is, there will be (so the NIF regime calculates) a willingness to force the SPLM/A to make major concessions in the form of revisions to the Nakuru Draft Framework, even before real negotiations have begun.
In retrospect, it is clear that Khartoum came to this most recent round of talks at Nanyuki intending to create just the present crisis: “either you yield to our diplomatic blackmail and force major concessions from the SPLM/A first—or we won’t return, and war will resume.”
Such a threat can be answered in only one way if the integrity of the talks is to be preserved. Khartoum must be told that though clearly changes to the Draft Framework will be negotiated, that though there will certainly be give and take, there will be no non-negotiated changes to what has been presented by the mediators as the basis for all final negotiations. Modalities for the discussion of the Draft Framework can also certainly be negotiated. But the document must remain what it has been aptly called: the Draft Framework.
The logic of the situation is so simple and compelling it almost defies belief that the international diplomatic community involved in Sudan’s peace talks cannot immediately discern it. But if this logic does not inform the next stage of a now deeply endangered peace process, if the attempt is rather to bludgeon the SPLM/A into abandoning their insistence that the integrity of the drafting/negotiating process be respected, then Khartoum will sense weakness and exploit the situation to the maximum, attempting to secure the diplomatic status quo ante.
Lest it be obscured by present equivocation, the diplomatic situation that existed prior to the presenting of the Draft Framework was one in which no real progress had been made on any of the outstanding issues in the previous year of negotiations. All this while, Khartoum enjoyed, as it continues to do, the immense and asymmetric military advantage of a cessation of hostilities agreement (as of October 17, 2002); Khartoum’s especially advantageous violations of the October agreement have gone without significant challenge.
For their part, understanding full well that the peace process would soon lose momentum and international attention if progress were not accelerated, chief Machakos/IGAD mediator Lazaro Sumbeiywo and his fellow negotiators decided that they had gathered as much as they could about the views of the two parties on all issues, and that they would function as arbitrators: producing not a series of discrete proposals but rather one whole package of compromises. The Draft Framework that resulted came only after General Sumbeiywo had conducted one last extensive canvassing of opinion, in both northern and southern Sudan, within the Khartoum regime and the SPLM/A—and among Sudanese people not in either the regime or the Movement.
If Khartoum is successful with its diplomatic blackmail, if the international community yields to this unjustified demand that the Draft Framework be rejected, then the integrity of the whole process will be compromised—as will all that is represented by the diplomatic efforts that went into the Draft Framework.
Because the situation is now so clear, all should be able to see how destructive were the comments by US special envoy John Danforth who, while in Cairo in July, reassured the Egyptian regime that the Draft Framework was “only a draft” [Deutsche Presse Agentur, July 16, 2003]. Danforth’s impatience with the peace process, his failure to grasp the nature of the Khartoum regime and its relation to Cairo, and his resolute ignorance concerning the complex issues in Sudan’s catastrophic conflict—all are reflected clearly in this statement, and in his subsequent demand of the SPLM/A that they abandon the Draft Framework as the basis for final negotiations (this occurred in a meeting in Nairobi between Danforth and the SPLM/A leadership several days after Danforth’s Cairo statement).
The US State Department would subsequently (and with shameful belatedness) declare that:
“We remain committed to achieving a just and lasting peace in Sudan and believe that the IGAD peace process under the very capable leadership of the Kenyan Mediator, General (ret.) Lazaro K. Sumbeiywo, has made substantial progress over the past 14 months of consistent engagement.”
(US State Department Press Release, August 7, 2003)
But the damage to the peace process had already been inflicted by Danforth’s unwarranted assessment. As the International Crisis Group all too accurately noted at the time:
“[T]he countries facilitating the process need to make clear the benefits of peace and the penalties of more war, notably the U.S., which has caused confusion by inconsistent statements. If this best chance for peace in twenty years is missed, the arms build-up on both sides suggests the war will become more deadly and destructive than ever.”
“Sustained U.S. pressure on the parties is the single most important factor needed at this point. Regrettably, recent public and private statements by American officials and the lack of high-level U.S. public support for IGAD’s proposals have sent potentially damaging mixed signals.”
(“Five Minutes to Midnight in Sudan’s Peace Process” (International Crisis Group, Brussels, August 8, 2003)
Khartoum, now sensing disarray in the peace process, will hardly be conciliatory in setting the terms for resumed talks–at least talks “resumed” in any meaningful way. On the contrary, the failure of the State Department or the Bush White House to support the Nakuru Draft Framework more explicitly convinces Khartoum that the US is not in fact really committed to the document—or, by extension, to the integrity of the peace process. But a peace process without integrity can never yield a just peace; and it remains as true as ever that without a just peace, there can be no meaningful or lasting peace for Sudan.
What is there emanating from the Khartoum regime and the state-controlled press that confirms the preceding analysis?
Consider first the bald-faced lie that the NIF deputy ambassador in Nairobi recently offered concerning the failure of the talks. Ahmed Dirdeiry, one of Khartoum’s delegates to the talks, declared that “differences over power-sharing resulted in the suspension of talks until September 10 to give both sides time to consult” (Associated Press, August 23, 2003). This is simply not true, indeed it is such conspicuous mendacity that one can only conclude Khartoum holds the Machakos/IGAD diplomats and the world at large in such contempt that there is no need even to bother to lie well.
As has been made clear even in Khartoum’s Arabic press, the talks broke off because Khartoum refuses to accept the Nakuru Draft Framework. Deputy Ambassador Dirdeiry’s remark is interesting only insofar as it bespeaks this signature NIF contempt for the truth, and what this contempt means for the peace process and any agreement to which Khartoum puts its signature.
Thus when NIF President Omer Beshir, in a rather more consequential pronouncement, declares in a letter to President Bush that he wants “the United States to help push stalled Sudanese peace talks forward,” and (according to NIF Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail) “wants the United State to play ‘an active role’ and wants the current round of talks to succeed” (Associated Press, August 21, 2003), we should be given pause. What does this really mean? Is there any reason to see this appeal as marked by any less contempt for the truth than Deputy Ambassador Dirdeiry’s assessment of why the last round of peace talks broke down? Hardly.
If the talks are headed for collapse, Khartoum will be doing all it can to mitigate the responsibility that it will have to assume. The disarray in US peace policy toward Sudan makes offering such an appeal irresistible to Beshir: he has asked for help from the US at precisely the moment in which the US appears least likely to offer it in any meaningful form, i.e., a blunt message to Khartoum that there will be severe consequences for the regime if it continues to refuse to negotiate on the basis of the Draft Framework.
With the State Department and the US special envoy for Sudan reading from different playbooks, with no resolve from senior members of the Bush administration to give priority and coherence to Sudan policy at this critical moment, nothing will redound more cheaply to Khartoum’s diplomatic credit than reaching out to the President of the United States, knowing that there will be no effective response. Khartoum doesn’t need to escape all responsibility for collapsing the best chance for in Sudan in a generation; the regime merely needs to create a situation of sufficient ambiguity that the Danforths of the world will look on and declare with fatuous facility, “neither party really wants peace. We wash our hands of this hopeless process.”
In short, this is but one more move by Khartoum’s leadership preparatory to breaking off the talks: putting themselves on record as nominally having solicited the help of the US, even as the regime is simply seeking to forestall Washington’s ire.
The same could be said of Beshir’s comments about the Machakos/IGAD peace process:
“Bashir reiterated his ‘faith and trust’ in the Kenya-led Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) initiative to restore peace in Sudan.” (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, August 22, 2003)
It was of course Beshir who said that the IGAD mediators could “go to hell” if they thought the Draft Framework could anchor final peace talks—and who told these same mediators that if they didn’t come up with an alternative, “they will have to dissolve the document in water and drink it” (Agence France-Presse, July 14, 2003). But now, as the peace talks move steadily toward collapse, Beshir wants to be on record as having celebrated IGAD and the Machakos process—anything that might blur the present stark clarity of the diplomatic situation.
Such tactics will seem too devious only to those who have not watched the National Islamic Front in diplomatic action over many years now, who have not registered the fact that the NIF regime has never abided by a single agreement it has signed—not one, not ever. The NIF has skated away on every previous diplomatic occasion when there was building pressure to negotiate a just peace—either shopping for a new forum, appealing to a different southern constituency in a bid to sow dissension, or playing off regional powers against one another. The Machakos peace process has been a much greater challenge, but success in aborting the possibility for a just peace seems again within reach, and again apparently without real consequences for the regime.
Consequences for the rest of Sudan appear all too clear. Though there is considerable military uncertainly in the Darfur region, Khartoum is poised to make major military advances in the oil regions of Western and Eastern Upper Nile. Recent intelligence from both regions suggests that offensives will be launched along the elevated oil roads as soon as the peace talks are perceived by the international community as having collapsed. Potential military offensives by Khartoum’s forces from either Juba or Wau will require the onset of the dry season, but this is not far beyond the presently scheduled end of the talks (September 20, 2003).
Humanitarian assessments indicate that food insecurity in Bahr el-Ghazal province is growing a great deal more serious, and that humanitarian conditions in Western Upper Nile are dire. Resumed war will almost certainly see Khartoum again resort to a military strategy of manipulating humanitarian access, with particularly severe consequences for these two presently distressed areas.
The moral imperative for the international community remains what it has been since the peace process entered this decisive phase: bring sufficient pressure to bear on the Khartoum regime that peace will seem the only means by which survival can be assured. At this last and most desperate hour, such pressure is most needed from the Bush White House and requires only a simple statement from President Bush himself:
“Peace in Sudan is a priority for the United States. We will not allow the best chance for peace in twenty years of brutal civil war to be squandered by the intransigence of either party. The Draft Framework presented by the Machakos/IGAD mediators is the only way forward in the peace process, and the United States supports this document as the basis for final negotiation of a just peace, even as it supports the mediators who are guiding present negotiations. Refusal to participate in the peace talks in good faith will have severe consequences.”
Fewer than 100 words; but coming now from President Bush, these words could change immediately the calculations in Khartoum that are presently making peace seem a distant prospect. Why, given the extraordinary and catastrophic human consequences of renewed war, have these words not been uttered?
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